Turkeys May Not Be Stupid

An Oregon State University (search) poultry scientist thinks turkeys (search) are getting a bum rap.

While they may not be the sharpest arrows in the quiver, Tom Savage, a professor of Animal Science (search), said the big birds aren't really dumb.

"I've always viewed turkeys as smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings," Savage said. "The 'dumb' tag simply doesn't fit."

Stories abound of how turkeys are so stupid that they sometimes look up while it's raining and keep staring skyward until they drown.

Savage said turkeys sometimes do cock their heads and hold that position for a minute or more. It's a genetically caused nervous disorder that Savage identified in the early 1990s.

"It's an example of how a misunderstood animal behavior becomes identified as proof that the animal is extremely lacking in intelligence," Savage said.

And he noted that wild turkeys are cunning enough to leave hunters frustrated and cursing.

Savage said he knows it's an uphill fight to reshape the fowls' image as anything but a big, dumb bird. But he said he'll keep trying.

"I'm an advocate for turkeys," Savage said. "Except on Thanksgiving (search)."