I have been reading the book “Illumination in the Flatwoods” about the wild turkeys raised by Joe Hutto. For the most part I find his observations about wild turkeys to be spot on with what I have experienced with the domestic heritage breeds. Its very interesting to me that there are such similarities.
One of the observations Mr. Hutto makes is that if he points out something for his birds by pointing with his finger they are smart enough to look at the object of his interest rather than his finger. I never thought about this before but it is a very astute observation. The birds know you are pointing something out to them – not that you are giving them something. Interesting. I decided to experiment with this with my domestic heritage birds and compare their response to my hound dog’s response.
To be fair the hound dog I engaged in the trial is somewhat lacking in basic intelligence. Her name is Sheba and we somewhat jokingly believe she was denied oxygen at sometime in her birthing process. Not the sharpest dog we have! But she is a willing and enthusiastic participant for any endeavor (particularly if it can include squirrel killing).
Now to the experiment! I was on my normal rounds feeding and my turkey hens were following hoping that I would step on some walnuts for them to eat. At one point I stopped and pointed decidedly to the bare ground. Every hen examined the ground – not my pointing finger. I tried the same experiment on ground that had grass, leaves, and sticks (but no edibles) and each time the hens looked for what I was pointing to – not my hand.
I tried the same experiment with Sheba and she always looked to my hand/finger. Interesting to see that the turkeys understood I was pointing something out to them but the dog thought my hand was to be the object of interest! Try this at home! I would be interested in hearing how many dogs understood the concept of pointing out an object of interest.
This fascinates me because Mr. Hutto associates the ability to abstract what is pointed to with intelligence. He infers that this is a measure for the intelligence of a being – and turkeys do better than dogs in his trials! I don’t know if I would go so far as to say turkeys are more intelligent than dogs but I sure do think they hold their own. They may just not demonstrate intelligence the way we are used to seeing it. But the cognitive resouces are there.