RESEARCH: Dark-feathered turkeys are bolder and more adventurous than light-feathered turkeys

Researchers think that the colour of a turkey’s feathers can determine how scared or fearful, or how bold and brave, it might be. 

The New Scientist magazine, in December 2021, writes that in Nigeria, at the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, agricultural scientists are studying the Common Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). The Common Wild Turkey is a large bird in the Phasianidae family of pheasants, partridges, francolins, junglefowl, and grouse. It is a galliforme. The turkey can have black, white, or lavender feathers.

Common Wild Turkey

The researchers found that the black turkeys are bold and adventurous. Lavender-feathered turkeys are fearful and scared. Turkeys with white feathers have behaviours that are in the middle of the other two types of turkeys. 

Researcher Samuel Durosaro said that the findings could help farmers to improve the health and welfare of their turkeys.

Samuel Durosaro and his colleagues conducted 5 tests on fearfulness behaviour on 75 turkey chicks, called poults. There were 13 male chicks and 12 female chicks of each of the three colours. The birds were tested every second day from the ages of 7-16 days. 

Fearfulness tests involved holding the turkey upside down by its legs and counting how many times it flapped its wings. Another test involved the turkey being placed in a dark box with one small exit hole and counting how long it took to escape. A third test involved placing the turkeys, one by one, in a large open box and counting how many different parts of the box they explored.

The researchers found that all of the turkeys acted the same when they were held upside down. 

For the black box test, the black turkeys were five times faster than the white and lavender turkeys in escaping. That’s why the researchers think that the black turkeys are bolder and braver than the other turkeys. 

For the exploration test, the black turkeys explored more regions of the box than the lavender turkeys, but the white turkeys explored slightly more regions than the other birds. But the black turkeys also tried to escape the big box seven times more often than the other turkeys. The lavender turkeys stayed in one small circle.

The scientists are not sure whether the behaviours are genetic or because they are domesticated.

The researchers also found that the bold black turkeys laid more eggs than the other turkeys.

Knowing this information, farmers can help the lavender and white turkeys to cope with domestic life – perhaps they can have more food, or more vitamins, or have more environmental enrichment like listening to music. Maybe toys might help them be less fearful.

Samuel Durosaro said, ‘Turkey welfare is a continuum. If you want to improve the welfare of an animal, you have to consider all the aspects for that individual.’

Journal reference: Applied Animal Behaviour ScienceDOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2021.105483

Common Wild Turkey
Common Wild Turkey
Common Wild Turkey

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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