When it comes to advocating on behalf of farmed animals, we’re often urged to “be a voice for the voiceless.” But this well-meaning adage misses the mark; a better formulation might exhort, “Be a voice for those whose voices go unheeded or unheard.” Not quite as eloquent, but it at least acknowledges the fact that farmed animals DO have voices, and that they can and do speak. Indeed, they cry and plead for their lives; it is just that their voices are ignored.
But farmed animals communicate much more than fear and pain. Just like human animals, farmed animals have complex vocabularies that convey a wide range of emotions and messages, including joy, affection, contentedness, encouragement, mourning, and many other feelings.
Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary kissing Beatrice the turkey, who regularly communicates her wish for affection.
Take turkeys: It is estimated that turkeys have over 30 different calls that make up part of their extensive communication system, which includes both verbal and non-verbal cues and gestures.
Researching turkey vocabulary online, I was saddened to discover that the sites with the most information on turkey communication are hunting sites. There, the sophistication and subtleties of turkey talk are explored not as something to appreciate, but as something to exploit; a catalog of calls to learn to mimic in order to trick unwitting birds into firing range, and gleefully obliterate them.
In reality, turkey calls are a joy to listen to simply as a means to appreciate these remarkable creatures, and as a way to better understand some of the most maligned, misunderstood and mistreated animals in the world.
Below you can find just a few of the many fascinating sounds and calls made by both domestic and wild turkeys. But first, lest you think the talkative turkey in the video above was an exceptional case, here’s one more amazing turkey-human dialogue that demonstrates just how friendly and garrulous turkeys can be when they feel safe and loved. Here, Tomoko the turkey chats with a visitor to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.
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