Monday, 15 August 2011

Let’s Talk Turkey ...

Metro OnLine - Actor during filming

Well I said it ... so let’s do it ... I sat quietly the other night to watch “My Life as a Turkey” .. thinking, as I expect you’re all thinking, well this can’t be interesting.  I was stunned into being glued to watching tv for an hour ...

.. turkeys are for eating – aren’t they ... huge birds over which families spend hours cooking, in order to have a veritable family feast ... not watching?  I was so enthralled – I took notes ... good post coming – then the thought would anyone want to read it ... my mind wanders along that path.

A wild turkey
Five days later Saturday arrives .. and the Saturday Times Review announces ... “Documentary of the week – probably of the month, possibly of the year – was ‘My Life as a Turkey’”.  So, this old girl, had some turkey life left in her and could spin her yarn ....

... perhaps you’ve heard of Joe Hutto, the American biologist ... this is the guy that spent a year raising 16 wild turkey chicks from the egg in the depths of the north Florida Everglades – here he narrates while an actor and the wildlife re-enact his story.  (First published as a book in 1995: ‘Illumination in the Flatwoods’).

Hutto had a dream of being able to raise wild turkeys but was relying on a local landsman to let him have a clutch of eggs ... he had been waiting a year – so when they arrived out of the blue, he was taken aback ... but delighted.  He wondered if they’d survive.

A real wild turkey nest
As a biologist he incubated the eggs, turned them twice a day, made turkey noises ... and after 25 days (which is normal turkey-bird procedure) stopped the turning ... and waited.  They hatched themselves, clawed their way out ... and he had fifteen turkey chicks.

He imprinted on them from the beginning – making sure no other humans came into contact with him or them ... so that they ‘accepted’ him as their “mother” – as a biologist this is what he wanted to do – they had similar interests ... snakes and birds and interesting artefacts.

He was there for them ... they tottered around, gathered strength ... and he spent all daylight hours with them, chuntering away in turkey language ... in seven days they can fly.  He’d made a roost for them and a cage of chicken wire – so they had all the turkey mod cons they could wish for ....

Saw Grass Prairie, Florida Everglades
... and a few wild friends one or two could have done without ... a rat snake slim enough to get into the coop, too large to get out having reduced their numbers to 14!  Early on when they go out walking with Hutto ... a hawk swoops down and now we’re down to the dirty dozen – thirteen.

The documentary seems to have taken the media world ‘by storm’ with its ringing endorsements – some of the asides presented seem to be brushed off by the journalists – I guess a logical aspect.  The incredulity of someone, even a biologist, wanting to spend time raising, bonding and talking to turkeys seemed a little ‘beyond the pale’ ...

For a whole year he nurtured their wildness ... he walked them through the Florida Everglades ... saw them start to fly, watched the years of accumulated wisdom seep out ...  that intuitive wisdom flora and fauna have in order to exist, live and adapt as necessary.  Something humans don’t have ... we’re not sure about things until we find out ...

In a tropical hardwood hammock,
trees are very dense and diverse ... 
live green oaks, gumbo limbo, royal
palm .. typical Everglade trees ... 
(new word hammock - dense hard
wood stand in Everglades)
... yet these birds were distressed at a cut-tree stump but not at fallen trees or branches; they developed specific calls for rattlesnakes (danger), but not for the great rat snake – because by now they were its match ... the mob effect.  Hutto learnt 30 of their calls, he recognised the sounds they made in reaction to specific wildlife, to the sounds around them ...

He noticed that they seemed to understand ecology – the special relationship they had with their natural environment ... they were far more conscious of everything about them – so “in the moment” – than most of us ever are.

Hutto remarked they were teaching him how to live their life ... to live now – i.e. not worry about what happened previously, or worry about the future ... now was the time to exist in full awareness – a necessity if you’re a turkey in the wild ...

We, as humans, are essentially nomads in this complexity that is life around us – unlike the wildlife ... we don’t appear to have the basic blueprint that 20 million years has instilled on other life on earth.

But these thoughts interested me and brought me up short to think about them ...  as the turkeys grew to becoming more independent and not sitting on his lap any longer ----?! – they intuitively knew which bird, reptile, insect or plant were harmless and which were to be avoided.

Hutto named the chicks – SweetPea became his favourite ‘girl’ .. while Turkey Boy was the home loving, but wild male bird ... after a year or so the flock melted away into the bush ... Sweet Pea had some eggs ... but had a sorry end ... she was killed on her nest, and her eggs smashed ... Turkey Boy – you need to see the film!

The Times' reviewer ends their piece ... “A closing credit informed us: ‘Joe is now living with a herd of mule deer in the mountains of Wyoming’.  That has to be a sequel, please.  I want to see an actor playing Joe Hutto roosting with mule deer in a tree”.

This film will be distributed by the BBC Natural World in due course ... but I did find out that Passion- Pictures co-produced the film and have the rights ... and in emailing them I got this answer:

Captured during filming!  BBC2
 In regards to My Life Is A Turkey, I believe that WNET/BPS will be airing it in the States although we haven’t been given any broadcasting dates yet.

Most of our feature length documentaries can be brought on DVD – Amazon stocks a majority of the titles. You will be able to find the details of our other films we on our website

It’s just extraordinary how a wildlife film can take us by storm .. I loved this and I’m sure it will become a cult movie ... the camera shoots of the wildlife, the scenery, the turkeys’ feelings, the turkeys growing – I hope you get a chance to view it ... now let’s talk Turkey!

BBC2 - more photos and details here ... 

Dear Mr Postman – my mother is quiet and peaceful after a difficult patch ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I will watch for it!! My Life as a Turkey, awesome title!!

MorningAJ said...

How amazing. I can't imagine living as a turkey - but I'm impressed that he did.

Jannie Funster said...

That DOES sound like a must-see film, Hilary!

Reminds me of that human couple who lived with the wolves. I enjoyed that very very much.

And mule deer too,eh? I wonder what will be next? He will become a shark family member? He could do it, I'm sure in a large saltwater pool!



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Karen .. I hope you enjoy it and catch it when it hits the American scene .. well, well worth it ..

@ Morning AJ - it's on BBC2 iplayer now .. if you get a chance to watch .. either on the computer or the tv (should you be up to date - I'm not .. with an iplayer)

@ Jannie .. it is definitely a MUST SEE - as you say. I didn't see that film about wolves .. I'll have to keep a look out for it ..

Well - the mule deer is an ongoing process .. so wait and see. He is a biologist .. not a marine one - but who knows what comes next .. the Turkey Film took 16 years after the book publication ... so we look at 2027 - I might have lost interest by then!! Cheers Hilary

Karen Walker said...

Sounds just wonderful, Hillary. I'll look out for it.

Karen Lange said...

You should consider putting your posts together someday as an ebook. It would be a great read with lots of personality! :)
Have a great week,

Mohamad Rivai said...

I live in Indonesia, my uncle also happens to have a turkey

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Is that Mr Turkey or Miss in the pic with him? Not that it matters. You find the most extraordinary stories, Hilary. Really. I'll watch when it's on.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Karen .. I'm sure you'll enjoy it .. it was so interesting.

@ Karen .. I do think about an ebook or variations on a theme - so am really grateful for the compliment.

@ Riva'i .. great to meet you - thank you for stopping off .. and glad to hear your uncle has a turkey .. does he have other animals?

@ Joylene .. I think that's probably the equivalent of 'SweetPea' .. but a clever turkey-actress!! I know - I rather wondered what everyone would think - but enjoy the watch when it appears! It's fun.

Thanks Karen W and L, riva'i and Joylene .. great seeing you and you all have good weeks .. Hilary

Glynis Peters said...

Sounds good,Hilary, I will have to keep my eyes peeled!


I missed that Hilary, I would have watched that. It seemed quite a programme. Hope it has a repeat.


Anonymous said...

I also missed it Hilary - I am sure it will be on again some time. Not sure I want turkey this Christmas having heard your account! :-)

Sara said...


I loved your review of this documentary. Living in Florida, I've grown up with turkeys (the animal kind). Hard to admit given your post, my family often hunted them.

They are the most clever of birds and extremely difficult to hunt or capture. I read about this one University of Florida biologist who wanted to capture a flock.

They tried everything, but couldn't do it; the birds got away every time. They finally ended up rigging this contraction that shot a net over the turkey from quite a distance away. It all for the good; they wanted to assess the condition of the wild turkeys. But you are right; they are wily birds and I enjoyed this post so much:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Glynis .. I hope you get a chance to watch it - well worth it.

@ Yvonne.. sorry about that .. but I'm sure it'll be repeated. It's on iplayer if you have one of those?

@ Deborah .. as above for Yvonne .. but do try and watch when it next appears. They are wild turkeys and would be very scrawny ... plump juicy turkey specially fattened for Christmas (or Thanksgiving) sounds good though?!

@ Sara .. well they're pretty prolific down there - or were. Post war and pre-war .. it was the norm to get food from the land .. so it's understandable (unfortunately).

I wonder if this was the same guy - could well have been .. he then got his flock by raising them.

Netting is common practice here - to see if the birds are healthy ..

Delighted you enjoyed it and can appreciate the landscape -

Cheers Glynis, Yvonne, Deborah and Sara .. thanks so much .. Hilary

Unknown said...

What an awesome documentary! Who would have thought you could learn so much from turkeys? I would make me sad each time a turkey died. The man raised it as his own. I'll look out for it. And I do want to see the deer one too.

Talli Roland said...

Shoot, I've never heard of this documentary! Living life as a turkey would certainly be an interesting perspective.

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss hilary! wow! for sure i could like seeing that turky movie. sorta reminds me of that movie fly away home 'bout a dad and daughter raising a flock of canada geese and had to teach them how to fly south at winter time. you could like that movie. i love nature stuff. i like what animals teach bout living for just right now. that how come i like buddha.
...hugs from lenny

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Clarissa .. it was very awesome. The emotion expressed in the film was quite as we would expect - between mother and child .. odd - but that's the way animals are too.

The turkey one is around and will no doubt be distributed and repeated here .. the whole flock was raised as his own .. amazing.

As I mentioned the deer one - you might have to wait a few years .. this took 16 years to get to market - once the book was published.

@ Talli .. if you get a chance .. it's on iplayer - ideal 'with hubby' watching film!!!??

@ Lenny .. how lovely to see you here - and as I watched it, I thought of you and how much you'd enjoy the turkey film, but seeing, hearing and feeling their story as well is really wonderful.

I love that idea about a man and his daughter raising Canada Geese - I haven't heard of that - then I must definitely keep my eyes open for that .. perhaps a DVD ..

I know you love nature and what animals can teach us .. and it's so good to know that you follow Buddha .. I'd love to be nearer and then you could tell me some more .. sounds fascinating.

Hi Clarissa, Talli and the A+ star school kid "the Sunny Lenny Lee" .. wonderful to see you here - thanks for coming by - Hilary

amy@ Souldipper said...

I love having the thrill of learning something from nature. But, like you, Hilary, I thought "Turkeys?".

Truly, this thrills my little nature-loving-nature!

Hopefully I'll find a way to download it from Britain. We'll see.

Arlee Bird said...

I do like to eat turkey. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite U.S. holidays. Don't know about raising them. Gotta appreciate Hutto's dedication to the cause, but it seems a bit wacky as well.

Tossing It Out

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Amy .. it was a little strange - but there are so many excellent wildlife films now - and as Lenny (aged 11) above mentions the Canada Geese one.

I hope you can get to watch it .. it makes a fascinating film from many levels.

@ Lee .. yes - I agree .. turkey is delicious with all the trimmings.

It does seem wacky - but if we didn't have dedicated scientists who are somewhat eccentric .. you and I would never find out.

Thanks Amy and Lee - enjoy the day when it comes around .. Hilary

Rosalind Adam said...

He talked and walked turkey?!? That's weird. I get too emotional watching wildlife programmes and I tend to avoid them. I'll never understand myself because it's only animals that reduce me to a blubbering mass of tears.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ros .. yes he did and lived like one!! It is an incredible film .. and is still there on BBC2 via Google or via the iplayer if you're up in that world.

I'm like you - I cry at all things and it's ridiculous .. but there it is .. Good educative film is so worth seeing - because we all come from that environment once upon a time ..

Hope you can pluck up courage and take a look .....?!

Good to see you .. cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

Hilary: I too love wild life films. There is SO much around us in the natural world that we miss cooped up in small A/C houses. We were created, I think, to interact with the world around us. I love this comment of yours: "now was the time to exist in full awareness" No worrying about past or future. Learn from the turkeys!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ann .. yes I can understand your coopedupness - I feel the same at times .. and if it was or is as hot as I've heard .. it must be awful out of the house (well heat wise!).

You're so right we came from the earth and so we need to interact with it ... actually that comment was a direct quote from the tv .. = writers of the documentary ... but those and others were the words that rang so true - despite it being about turkeys!!

Life is full of suprises! Cheers Hilary

Helen Ginger said...

I want to see this movie. Seriously. I do.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,
My goodness, well I certainly gobbled up this fascinating and yet again, informative article. I'm going to check out your link.
And, I have fond memories of Canadian Thanksgiving....
Cheers :)

Susan Scheid said...

The first year we lived up here, we had wild turkeys in our yard. The next year, we had them again, along with their chicks. I loved seeing them trotting across the lawn and am so sorry they've not come back since then. I'm not sure, though, how I feel about this "imprinting." It seems a bit against nature, in the end.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Helen .. you'll enjoy the film, I'm sure.

@ Gary .. I hope you found the link and were able to watch the film .. there was so much in it.

Canadian Thanksgiving must be a great family time too ..

@ Susan .. that must have been wonderful seeing the turkeys around your home - sorry they haven't come back. The imprinting was only so he could 'study' them .. be with them and see how they behaved, and he certainly found that out by being a part of their lives.

As a biologist he was going to the highest level .. the documentary and his notes must have shown how they lived and how we can ensure we don't interfere in their lives and maintain their habitat.

Thanks Helen, Gary and Susan .. great to see you .. HIlary

TALON said...

Sounds delightful, Hilary. I often think that humans are the weakest link in the chain of life on this planet.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talon .. more and more people seem to be saying that - sadly many many many more two-legged creatures don't seem to realise ..

It's a very good film .. cheers Hilary

Patricia said...

What a wonderful post Hilary, I loved reading it and added the film to my list of future watches.

I am thinking I have so much to learn from the animals and birds and trees in my life - there is never a dull moment.

Yes, I think humans have a lot to learn...I think this is more the back to basics we need rather than memorizing facts...

Living a real life

Glad your mum is calm and peaceful right now...thinking of you a great deal these days.

Friko said...

Surely you have to be complete, shall we say, bonkers to actually live with creatures, rather than study them?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Patricia - many thanks and I'm sure you'll enjoy the film .. every living thing has so much to offer us - and we can learn from their relationship with environment.

As you say .. humans can learn from what's going on around us .. rather than just facts regurgitated. It's linking everything together and seeing how it all ties in to real life.

Thank you re my Mama .. and appreciate your thoughts for us at this time.

@ Friko - perhaps .. but in living with them, understanding their ways, he seemed to bring a whole new learning curve to our learning.

It's a really good film - and I'm sure you'd appreciate it!

Cheers and have good Fridays and weekends .. Hilary

Empty Nest Insider said...

It's a sensitive subject for me as I live in fear of one day having a turkey neck! Julie said...

Such dedication. Amazing! Turkeys are such peculiar looking birds aren't they? Like the Ood in Dr. Who.:O)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie .. that's a great comment! Is that why you have your hair long? If you get a chance - enjoy the film!

@ Madeleine .. those are his passions - birds, reptiles and artefacts .. so he's happy to be dedicated: definitely unsure if I could do it!

I've never seen the Ood in Dr Who .. I must be missing something?! But I'd hate to compare Sweet Pea and Turkey Boy to the Ood .....!

Cheers - great to see you both .. Hilary

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Hilary -

What an interesting experiment! We often saw wild turkeys in New England. Recently, Jen and I were on our way to the Philly conference, and one walked across the street in front of the car.

Susan :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. the book and Hutto himself .. must have made a huge impact .. for the 'experiment' to have been turned into a film.

Do you see them in New England .. I guess like most wild animals .. they venture urbanwards ... if their own space has been concreted over.

Good to see you - cheers Hilary

walk2write said...

I read somewhere that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to become our national bird. Not very dashing as a symbol but pretty amazing birds. Thanks for the info on the documentary. I'll be watching for it.

I've been to the Everglades in south Florida a time or two. There's a lot of restoration work going on there. Decades of development and "draining the swamp" have taken a toll on the watershed and wildlife, but there's some hope for recovery.

Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

That is an amazing story. I wonder what his wife had to say about that. Hmmm .... maybe he didn;t have a wife, which would explain how he could do this. I mean, if I had this many turkeys running around my place, I'm not sure wifey would appreciate all the noise and turkey poo.

But an interesting story. I have seen this with ducklings. They will latch onto a person as their mother if that person is the first living thing they see.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ W2W .. you're right about Benjamin Franklin .. see the paragraph as here in Wikipedia.

The idea seems to have come from a letter he wrote to his daughter .. it makes quite an interesting read.

Yes - I'd read that the American army engineers have been called in to restore the swamp .. and they're working on the project presumably with the Reserve authorities.

Thanks W2W - good add on.

@ Stephen .. I don't think he can be married - not if he's living with deer in Wyoming now .. but perhaps a marriage of convenience?!

Your wife would go nutty - I suspect ..

You're right about ducklings and other abandoned baby animals - they do bond with other animals or person .. but not quite like his turkeys bonded with him. He'd been talking to them while they were still eggs too .. apparently that's normal turkey mother-hen procedure.

Thanks to both of you .. have good weekends .. Hilary


This is one of the most bizarre and interesting posts I've read lately. I have seen turkeys in the wild a number of times
and never thought twice about them. Now I'll have to think twice. After all, before it attained its present perjorative meaning, Ben Franklin thought it should be our national bird, rather than the American eagle.
Maybe, ol' Ben had something there.
My best.

Anonymous said...

I'll never look at a turkey sandwich the same way again. I will be looking forward to watching "My Life as a Turkey" when it comes to US TV. :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Count Sneaky .. many thanks - delighted that you've enjoyed this - glad I've fulfilled my intention!

Certainly I'm looking at all fauna in a slightly different light .. and wondering aspects of its life.

Ben Franklin's letter on the turkey v the bald eagle is fascinating .. and maybe ol'Ben did have something there.

Hope you get to see the film sometime ..

@ Ron .. Turkey sandwich .. hadn't thought of that .. but the film certainly is worth a watch ..

Many thanks County Sneaky and The Old Geezer - good to see you both .. have good weekends .. Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm sorry your mother had a difficult patch, but I'm glad to hear she's doing better.

Snake stealing an egg! That reminds me of a West African tale I taught my students this year.

My nephew wants to shoot the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. My father-in-law is considering it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Theresa .. many thanks re my Mama.

It was snake stealing a turkey chick! All hatched by then ..but they do take eggs too ..

Wouldn't the turkeys in the wild be too scrawny? Oh well .. interesting to know what happens .. Is that where the family turkey usually comes from? - cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

I love documentaries! You can learn so much about the world through that genre. Thanks so much for telling me about this, I definitely want to see it!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Scarlett .. it is a particularly good one - just an amazing subject, but well worth the watch and so much to learn from it. Great to see you and when it comes out enjoy the film .. cheers for now - Hilary