Gobble Gossip: No, turkeys don't drown looking skyward in the rain

No documented turkey drownings this way, Purdue University expert says

It's tough to be a turkey around Thanksgiving, but one thing the big birds don't have going against them is drowning in the rain. 

There is an old wives tale that turkeys look up at the sky during the rain and drown. This is purely gobble gossip.

The myth started with a dash of truth. Like for most animals --and people-- severe weather can be deadly.

Dr. Darrin M. Karcher, Extension Poultry scientist at Purdue University, said there hasn't been a documented case of turkeys drowning by looking up at the sky.

Purdue Agriculture’s Department of Animal Sciences is home to a nationally recognized poultry program. The program will provide a home and care for Peanut Butter and Jelly, the turkeys pardoned by President Joe Biden on Friday.

Before the mid-1980's turkeys were raised on pastures and not environmentally-controlled housing, severe weather might cause problems for turkeys.

"It would occasionally happen that a severe storm might happen causing problems resulting in turkey mortality. Even today, when turkeys are outside, if they don’t have a way to get into sufficient shelter or fully feathered because they are still young, then we can run into exposure problems," Karcher said, but again, "nothing with drowning."

The last bit of the myth that turkeys look up at the sky also has some fact to it. 

"There are times that turkeys can be observed staring into the sky, but why that occurs is not known. There is a 'neurological disorder,' very uncommon, that results in turkeys having a ‘spasm’ where they are looking toward the sky for 30-60 seconds of time," Karcher said. "However, nothing to do with staring into the sky during a rain event resulting in drowning."

Karcher said it's hard to say whether turkeys are more intelligent than other poultry. Still, they are curious birds and habit-forming creatures.

"Turkeys are curious, always exploring the environment. Once they establish that the food is always located in this one area and the water is in another area, that is where they will always go to find it. If you swap the food and water locations, the turkeys will take a period of time to figure out the new locations of the food and water."