Living a turkey’s life

Joe Hutto is as human as the rest of us.

But he knows his turkeys. Indeed, the Florida naturalist knows turkeys so well he actually has “mothered” a brood of hatchlings to adulthood. His story is the subject of a PBS “Nature” program, to air Wednesday at 7 p.m. on KACV-TV.

Hutto has been studying young animal behavior for many years. But he thought he’d try a new kind of experiment. He captured some turkey eggs that had been laid, incubated them and watched each of 16 young birds hatch. While they were incubating, Hutto would talk to the birds using a variety of turkey calls he knew. The chicks would respond with barely perceptible peeps from inside their shells, Hutto said.

And when they hatched, Hutto made sure his eyes were the first things the young birds saw as they emerged — frightened and confused — from the protection of their shells.

It was at that moment, he said, that “this science experiment turned into an emotional experience.”

The “Nature” program follows Hutto and his chicks through to the birds’ adulthood. It tells of the relationship man and birds developed as they matured. It tells of a oddly violent exchange between Hutto and one of his birds as the turkey separated from the only “parent” he knew.

The PBS program will air on Thanksgiving eve, the day before many millions of Americans sit down for, um, a many-course turkey dinner.

After you watch the “Nature” special, it just might not be quite so easy to consume the bird served up on this uniquely American holiday. You’ll learn perhaps that, in their way, birds are people too.

Well, if that is the case, then think of the lucky turkey that’s going to receive the customary Thanksgiving Day presidential pardon at the White House.

Meanwhile, bon appetit.

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