It doesn’t matter what the species is, if an animal is kept domestically there will be a large body of lore amassed about it. Most of this lore is a myth, rumor, old wives’ tale, and joke that got way out of hand and turned into a legend. Turkeys are not exempted!
One of the most persistent myths about turkeys is that they will drown if it rains too hard. The story goes that turkeys are so dumb that if they get caught in the rain they will be perplexed by it and, staring into it, will slowly drown.
Pretty outlandish stuff if you ask me! But, stranger things have happened and all that. Could it be true? Do turkeys really drown in the rain?
No, turkeys do not drown in the rain. They may be overcome by hypothermia if soaked in water in colder weather, but falling precipitation will not drown them.
This whopper of a myth likely persists because it seems half-logical: turkeys seem to be slow in more ways than one, but it stands to reason that if they drowned in the rain we wouldn’t have any more turkeys!
Even so, there is more to learn and even a grain of truth in the tale. If you want to find out what it is, keep reading…
If a Turkey Looks Up During a Rainstorm, Will it Drown?
No. Again, no. Turkeys do not drown due to precipitation falling on them when they are caught out in the rain.
It’s Just a Myth: Turkeys Won’t Drown in Falling Rain
If you are worried that your backyard flock or resident turkey is in danger of drowning any time a rainstorm blows in, don’t be!
These big birds are not susceptible to that urban legend, no matter what someone’s brother’s cousin’s uncle would have you believe.
Think about it: how could be non-extinct if that were the case? Every time it rained, entire turkey flocks would be wiped out wholesale!
The rumor likely started because, at some point, a turkey was found dead conspicuously after a sudden rainstorm, and the fact that turkeys do tend to congregate under large trees during rainstorms.
This lame leap of logic probably lead some poor sod to conclude that the bird had drowned after being caught in the open.
More likely, the turkey died of hypothermia, not because they are looking up at the rain and drowning.
Some Turkeys Might “Stare” at the Sky, Though
However, like most good tall tales, there is a grain of truth in this one, too. Turkeys might uncontrollably crane their necks back to stare up toward the sky.
This is due to a condition known as torticollis, which can be either congenital (present from birth) or develop later on in life.
Torticollis is a condition that causes the neck muscles to become imbalanced, resulting in the head being tilted (usually to one side) and the chin pointing up.
This can happen gradually or all at once and results in an awkward, craned-neck appearance. While this might look a bit comical to us, it can actually be quite painful and is usually debilitating for the bird.
If someone were to observe this behavior and later find a turkey dead after a rainstorm, they might have put two and two together, erroneously, and believe that the turkey drowned this way.
Are Turkeys Smart or Not?
Just to be perfectly clear, turkeys are not stupid. Since they move and, seemingly, think slower than chickens (whom they often accompany in domestic settings) they get a bad rap as dummies with some folks.
This notion has no doubt helped to fuel the myth of turkeys drowning in the rain.
The truth is that turkeys are very intelligent birds. They have great self-preservation instincts, excellent eyesight, and can see in color.
They can also see ultraviolet light, which helps them to find food and mates. Turkeys have good hearing and an acute sense of smell and are all-around capable and impressive birds.
They are plenty smart, I’ll promise you that much…
Turkeys Can Die in Rain and Storms, but Not the Way You Think
Consider this, too. Turkeys can, in fact, die in or because of rainstorms. But, again, it’s not because they are looking up at the rain and drowning.
They can succumb to exposure if caught in a downpour without shelter, or if a cold rain sets in and they are unable to warm up. In such conditions, a turkey can die from hypothermia rather quickly.
Additionally, rising waters from flooding can definitely kill a turkey since these big birds are pretty poor swimmers.
So, while a turkey won’t drown from raindrops falling, these are other dangers to be aware of if bad weather is headed your way. Make sure your turkey or turkeys have adequate shelter to help them weather the storm.
A Near Lightning Strike Might Scare a Turkey to Death
Another possible cause of death for turkeys associated with rainy weather is a lightning strike. Yes, of course, a turkey struck by lightning will die.
I am talking about, though, a near-lighting strike, and one with an apocalyptically loud peal of thunder.
Turkeys, and other birds, have in fact died of fright from such instances. It does not happen all the time, but birds are more vulnerable to acute stress than other animals.
So, a sudden, traumatic event like a very close lightning strike can cause their hearts to fail. If this should happen, the turkey will usually die right on the spot.
While it is not common, it does serve as another reminder that bad weather can pose a threat to your backyard flock.
Turkeys that Get Drenched Can Die of Hypothermia
Most turkeys won’t pay any attention to light rain. Their feathers are more than capable of keeping them warm and dry.
But hard, driving rain can soak a turkey right to the skin and leave it chilled. If this should happen and the turkey cannot get out of the rain or warm up, it can succumb to hypothermia and die.
While usually a threat in cooler temps or during sudden fall showers, a stiff breeze, and wet feathers can be enough to push a turkey over the edge.
Even when the weather is mild you should always have a place for your turkeys to go to stay dry.
Even a simple tarp rigged up as a lean-to can make all the difference if they don’t share a coop with other birds.
Turkey Chicks are Vulnerable to Rain
Keep in mind that turkey chicks are even more vulnerable to the elements than their adult counterparts. They don’t have fully developed feathers and they can get chilled very easily, even in warm rain.
This is why chicks are kept sheltered either in their nest or in a brooder when they are very young. They cannot cope with cooler air to say nothing of being soaked in water.
If you are raising older turkey chicks outdoors, ones that have started to feather properly, remember that they still don’t have the same cold weather resistance as adult birds.
What Do Wild Turkeys Do When it Rains?
Wild turkeys, like their domestic counterparts, don’t mind a passing shower, but will head for cover when the rain starts to pour.
Turkeys like to roost in trees when they can, but will also take shelter in brushy areas or under dense evergreens. If flooding is a concern, turkeys will head for higher ground.
This is rarely a major concern for most turkeys since their usual habitat provides plenty of places for them to get out of the rain.
However, if a severe storm hits an area where there is little in the way of natural cover, it can pose a problem.
In such cases, wild turkeys will sometimes bunch up together in an attempt to weather the storm and keep warm.
While this behavior can help them survive, it is no sure defense against hypothermia, either. Right about then they probably wish they had a nice, dry coop to go to.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.