The other night I was making the rounds making sure birds were safe in the coops and locked away from predators when I noticed a turkey hen, Elvira, on the ground in an unusual spot around the back of a pen. This was very unusual. Elvira is a sharp turkey – she knows not to roost on the ground. Why she would be in such a vulnerable position and an unusual place when her night coop door was open and available was beyond me….until I went to pick her up. When I picked her up two turkey poults (babies) were revealed under her warm feathers. These were not Elvira’s babies – she did not successfully nest this year. These were the babies of another hen – a sister hen who then recruited Elvira, Fiona, and Solo to help her raise her brood.
I can only surmise that as darkness fell the turkey poults called to their Mom – who was safe in the coop protecting her other babies. Foster Mom Elvira must have heard the calls and responded – going to the poults and letting them nest in her warm feathers despite the danger it posed to herself. This behavior is very, very rare in nature. Nature does not have a lot of examples of adoption or care for other’s young. With this act Elvira was putting her own life at risk for the young of another hen.
Why do turkeys do this? I don’t know! But its obvious to me that they adore babies and cooperate to raise them. When I picked up Elvira and the poults to put them away she was content. Once in the coop they settled down immediately back under her feathers – she purred the whole time letting them know everything was okay. The next day the whole family – including foster Moms Elvira, Solo, and Fiona, took a stroll around the garden very pleased with themselves and life.
There is so much more to animal intelligence and behavior than we realize. Their relationships and affections are astounding. I wish everyone could experience this for themselves. It opens up a whole new understanding of nature, our world, and even ourselves.