Campus News

Wildlife ecologist discusses the complexity of wild turkeys

Michael J. Chamberlain, professor of wildlife ecology and management in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, discussed the many hidden secrets of wild turkeys with Yahoo!News.

While people might only think about turkeys in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, they are active parts of the environment all year round. They have complex social groups, migratory patterns and even multiple ways to communicate to each other.

“Turkeys communicate in various ways, from vocalizations to appearance,” said Chamberlain, who has been studying their behavior for quite some time. “It is believed that turkeys primarily recognize each other through these vocalizations and the appearance of their heads.”

Much like any other social group, turkeys have created a social hierarchy and even cliques.

“Pecking orders introduce structure into the flocks we observe,” said Chamberlain. “This structure is something we do not fully understand, but it clearly influences how they behave and interact throughout the year.”

Pecking orders can begin when some birds are only a few days old, and the orders are tested during breeding season and during resource scarcity.

“Turkeys constantly test these pecking orders, by fighting, pecking at each other, chasing each other and so forth, seeking to challenge the dominant bird and move up in the hierarchy,” Chamberlain said. “These pecking orders dictate access to resources and breeding opportunities in the spring.”

Chamberlain emphasizes that there is still a lot to learn about this American bird.