Jonathan Davis/Twitter

Turkeys Performed a 'Death Dance' Around a Cat Corpse, and it's Creepy as Hell

Actual chills.

BEC CREW
6 MAR 2017
 

If you thought turkeys were just for Thanksgiving, think again, because this eerie footage shot in Massachusetts over the weekend proves that turkeys are also for performing creepy death rituals with fresh roadkill.

The bizarre footage, captured by Boston local Jonathan Davis, shows over a dozen wild turkeys surrounding a dead cat in a surprisingly measured circle. It's hands-down the creepiest thing we've seen in ages, but these brave birds are actually performing a very important community service - or so they think.

 

"This is the craziest thing I've ever seen," says Davis as he films the behaviour. "Turkeys walking in a circle around a dead cat in the middle of the road. What?"

What the hell is going on here?

While the circling behaviour looks like some kind of black magic death ritual, the performance is anything but confident - in reality, these birds are likely incredibly nervous and wary of the corpse on the street, and this is their way of 'inspecting' it in the safest way they know how.

"They're just making sure that it's no longer a threat," Mark Hatfield from the US National Wild Turkey Federation told Gizmodo. "It's more of a curiosity type of thing. Turkeys are very basic."

Ouch.

 

In all seriousness, while the behaviour looks ridiculous, it actually highlights a crucial part of a wild turkey's existence. As counterintuitive as it sounds, many prey species are more likely to approach, rather than avoid, predators... at least, initially.

What's noticeable in the footage is that the turkeys are all hens, and compared to male turkeys, female turkeys have virtually zero natural defence mechanisms against predators like cats, besides fleeing or grouping up.

If you're a male turkey, you'll have long, sharp spurs on the back of each leg to thrust at a predator, and some impressive bulk to throw around - the biggest known male weighed a whopping 16.85 kg (37.1 pounds), which is equivalent to a small border collie, and a massive beard and tail for extra intimidation.

Hens don't get any of these traits, so rely on being 'one of the crowd' as a way to minimise their chances of getting caught. 

Here are some guinea fowl doing the same thing with a dead rat, and remember this viral image of guinea fowl and chickens circling a live snake?

In the case of the Boston turkeys, researchers suspect that the hens' circling behaviour is their way of making sure that the cat is actually dead, without getting too close, which protects the individual, while also signalling to other prey in the area to keep their distance.

It's the epitome of 'safety in numbers', even if the threat happens to be already dead. Which brings us to our next question - why do they keep doing it when it's clear that cat is nothing but roadkill?

According to researchers, while the grouping behaviour is a deliberate anti-predator strategy, that perpetual circle is anything but - it's likely the unfortunate result of each turkey following instinct by sticking to the tail of the turkey in front of it, and no one taking the initiative to call a dead cat a dead cat.

"It's not unusual for them to get into those dances where they chase each other around," Scott Gardner, a turkey expert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Verge.

"Maybe they are waiting to see if the cat wakes up?" added biologist Alan Krakauer from the University of California, Davis.

To be clear, turkeys definitely aren't as dumb as they've been made out to be in the past, but they're no geniuses either, as this turkey circling a gravestone demonstrates:

Seriousy, turkeys, wtf are you doing? 

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