Do Turkeys Have Memory?

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shaman
 
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Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby shaman » January 18th, 2013, 6:32 am

Charlie Elk: I came to appreciate turkeys are birds with little to no thought process or memory and a lot of their days are spent wandering around on a trial and error basis.


I did not want to hijack the other thread, but I wanted to comment on this. Charlie, that is a profound statement. I am not sure I wholly agree, or agree with your other premise; that being that turkeys mostly random in their activities. On the other hand, I have stopped believing that there is a great intelligence lurking between a turkey's eyes. Let me throw out my opinions on the subject, and perhaps we can start a dialogue.

First off: Do turkeys have a memory? I would venture to say they do, but it is not a good one. My strongest example of how poor it can be is that I can sit on the back of camp and see the same gobblers come down the same road at sundown. They get down to a particular spot and see me out sipping my cocktail and run back the way they came. Every instance seems to be a wholly new experience for them. If they spy me on Monday, they are not wary on Tuesday or Wednesday. This was a Eureka moment for me. It took a couple of seasons for me to realize what I was seeing. Charlie, you seem to be right.

On the other hand, I can tell you that turkeys do get shy to a blind. If you miss a gob, you probably will not see him anywhere near that blind for the rest of season. Go figure.

Second: Are turkey's movements governed by anything beyond randomness? Yes, but I am not sure exactly what that is. I have been hunting the same property since 2002. During that time, I have seen several generations of birds come and go. There are definite patterns to their movements that span generations. I do not believe that is a sign of culture-- they are not imparting turkey wisdom to each other. However, I do see a sameness to it. A gobbler that struts in a certain pasture in early afternoon can be hunted pretty much the same as his grandfather who strutted the same pasture 5 years ago.

Now, I can see that the random idea does explain this up to a point. Turkeys respond to the immediate environment, and certain landforms seem to funnel them into remarkably similar behavior-- day to day as well as generation to generation. However, I see things that I cannot explain. Why this pasture and not that? Why do I never see turkeys here vs. there? Why do gobblers to the east of a certain blind always circle to the south before coming in and never come straight in?

Third: Can turkeys become call shy? I would say yes, but I do not think it is purely from over-exposure to calls. I am a hunter that spends 100% of his time hunting the same 200 acres all season. My experience has been that I must frequently change out my calls over the season in order to be successful. It is not a for-sure thing. In fact, I did very little to change my calls after the first week this past season, but there were fewer times this past year that I actually had gobblers respond to me. In most years, I find that I have to change the physical call as well as the method in order to get a positive response from gobblers. In a lot of circumstances, I know I am calling to the same gobbler. At some point in the season what got him hot the first week ceases to be effective. It may be a lot of things, but I believe that part of it is the gobbler has come to the call previously and been frustrated that a hen did not present herself for breeding.


Now, how can a reconcile all this into a cohesive view? On the one hand, gobblers can't seem to remember that I sit out back every evening, but on the other hand, they can remember that some hen calls lead to grief and frustration while others don't, or that if they stray to close to a certain spot in a fence line they'll get a loud noise and the sting of a stray pellet? Look, after 30-some years, I still see myself as a beginner. I don't have as many answers as questions. I'm just saying.
Last edited by shaman on January 18th, 2013, 8:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby Uncle Nicky2 » January 18th, 2013, 8:16 am

Not like yours & mine, and it's mostly programmed for danger, but I would think yes. Call one to you, shoot & miss, and try using that same call again...that bird didn't give up on chasing the ladies, but he does remember that the one with the funny sounding voice got him peppered. :lol:
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby Cut N Run » January 18th, 2013, 8:24 am

Of course turkeys have memories. Otherwise, how would they go to the same food source or roosting area time after time? How would turkeys remember safe areas to hang out in the sun or which field locations are safe to visit in the rain if they had no memory?

The Landowner at the property I used to hunt always turkey hunted from the same location time after time. He used the same call the same way and he conditioned the turkeys which used that area to avoid it after they realized they were being pursued. How could turkeys remember to stay away from a dangerous area if they had no memory?

How would subordinate gobblers know to avoid dominant gobblers if they keep forgetting which bird kicked their butts when the pecking order was established. Turkeys are taught to remember types of calls by their mothers on what to avoid and which other animals in their environment are friendly or dangerous.

Turkeys have a lot of natural instincts, but they also learn from their environment and experiences. Most of us have seen how a gobbler's urge to breed can cloud his judgement. Gobblers have learned that a hen is supposed to come to them for breeding. But, if a hen is playing hard to get and that gobbler has earned the right to breed in that flock, he will try to find her to pass on his genes. How much of that is instinct versus learning is unknown, though there has to be some thought and memory process at work there.

Just how I see it.

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shaman
 
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby shaman » January 18th, 2013, 10:02 am

Now let me throw another monkey wrench into the discussion: I am convinced that there are only a few days a season where a given group of gobblers are going to be open to regular calling practices. The rest of the time, you can hit them with everything in your arsenal, and you will come up short. Now, that does not mean all turkeys in an area are going to be like this, but at least in a 3/4 mile radius, it seems to be the case.

I have neighbors with access to multiple plots. When their plot that adjoins mine goes dry, they pack up and go elsewhere and have good luck. Those other plots may be only a few miles away, but there is a distinct difference.

My point in throwing this out is that if you came onto my ridge on one of those off-days, you would think my gobs are call-shy, that they've been overworked, over hunted or whatever. Truth is, they just don't want to respond to calling. A few days later, they start running to calls again.

Call shy? It may be that heavy hunting pressure could screw up birds. My point is that I am seeing a mechanism at work that does not rely on heavy hunting and it causes the gobs to be shy.
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby dewey » January 18th, 2013, 11:26 am

Cut N Run wrote:Of course turkeys have memories. Otherwise, how would they go to the same food source or roosting area time after time? How would turkeys remember safe areas to hang out in the sun or which field locations are safe to visit in the rain if they had no memory?

The Landowner at the property I used to hunt always turkey hunted from the same location time after time. He used the same call the same way and he conditioned the turkeys which used that area to avoid it after they realized they were being pursued. How could turkeys remember to stay away from a dangerous area if they had no memory?

How would subordinate gobblers know to avoid dominant gobblers if they keep forgetting which bird kicked their butts when the pecking order was established. Turkeys are taught to remember types of calls by their mothers on what to avoid and which other animals in their environment are friendly or dangerous.

Turkeys have a lot of natural instincts, but they also learn from their environment and experiences. Most of us have seen how a gobbler's urge to breed can cloud his judgement. Gobblers have learned that a hen is supposed to come to them for breeding. But, if a hen is playing hard to get and that gobbler has earned the right to breed in that flock, he will try to find her to pass on his genes. How much of that is instinct versus learning is unknown, though there has to be some thought and memory process at work there.

Just how I see it.

Jim


Great post Jim and I was thinking the samething.

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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby turkey junky » January 18th, 2013, 12:00 pm

they sure the heck do turkeys out west remember wear water is & wear cattle feed lots & wear the best roost sites are & wear not to be bothered ETC. its crazy to think they just happen onto these same food water & roost sites each day by accident or pure chance or luck???

turkeys in big woods do act like they have no reason for doing what they are doing & wonder around like nomads that 1 big reason i love hunting out west less big woods then here in MN & WI wear i chase easterns

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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby charlie elk » January 19th, 2013, 7:59 pm

shaman wrote: [quote= Charlie Elk]: I came to appreciate turkeys are birds with little to no thought process or memory and a lot of their days are spent wandering around on a trial and error basis.
I did not want to hijack the other thread, but I wanted to comment on this. Charlie, that is a profound statement. I am not sure I wholly agree, or agree with your other premise; that being that turkeys mostly random in their activities. On the other hand, I have stopped believing that there is a great intelligence lurking between a turkey's eyes. Let me throw out my opinions on the subject, and perhaps we can start a dialogue.

Wow, "profound"? I'm not sure anyone has referred to me as that before. But I'll accept it. ;)
Let the dialog roll.
A few weeks ago we, I or whatever did "hijack" another thread with this subject. Happened unexpectedly over a decoy discussion. To save typing I cut this exchange between treerooster and myself...
Treerooster wrote:This argument (I think) boils down to thet belief that wildlife can not learn. You have to have a memory to learn. To which I strongly disagree.


Perhaps, that is one take and perhaps in the end we will agree to disagree as I do not think anyone knows for sure. With many of the terms we throw around it depends on how each perceives and defines them. (learn, memory, knowledge, etc.) Keep in mind a simple 3 letter word like RUN has 832 different definitions.

Treerooster wrote:The fact that turkeys go to the same roost was brought up, and Charlie you did not address this. Except to say that imprinting was different than memory. I need much more detail than that or I would come away saying that if turkeys are imprinted on a roost site than memory (and learning) are the same as imprinting, at least in that respect.


Imprinting is different than memory. Memory involves the process of acquiring, storing and recalling information to form a knowledge base.
Imprinting is phase sensitive learning to establish a behavior pattern.
I think imprinting best describes the wild turkey "learning" process.
In the rare situation where turkeys use the same roost it is a matter of where the turkey was come roost time. At least this is the case in my area where we have suitable roost trees virtually everywhere. In contrast, in many western plains areas the turkeys don't have all these roosting options so they generally use the same trees or spend the night on the ground.

Treerooster wrote:Say you caught some week old poults and put them in a cage and raised them away from the hen. When they were about 6 months old you let them back in the wild were you caught them. What do you think their chances of survival would be? I'd say pretty slim because the hen was not there to raise/teach them things they need to know about that particular habitat. A hen is there to protect her brood for sure. But I also think those poults learn how to avoid danger and how to use the local habitat from the hen.


I like ticklishpros take on this with his quail example.
Also there were 2 studies done here in WI back in the 80's that concluded if a brood hen were to die the brood most likely survives without her. All of these studies are on Google Scholar.

Treerooster wrote:Its been said the only thing that can raise a wild turkey is a wild turkey hen, if you believe that is true then why? If a turkey has all it needs to know when born then any turkey should have all it needs to survive from the time it is hatched. As long as it makes it to the age where it can fly the hen is not needed. IF...turkeys can't learn that is.


I do not believe this, Joe Hutto raised a turkey brood and he could not fly or roost.

Treerooster wrote:Wild turkeys (and many other bird species and animals) that have never been hunted by man are easier to hunt than turkeys that have been heavily hunted. Why is that?

Because of phase sensitive learning to establish a behavior pattern, better known as imprinting.

Treerooster wrote:If birds can't learn, can mamals learn? Like dogs. If so, then where is the line between animals that can learn and animals that can't learn?


They can all "learn" to a point it is just how and how deep that learning is accomplished. Most birds I think learn by imprint, the exception is the crow who not only learns by imprint but seems to have a memory that is used as a knowledge base to perform some rudimentary reasoning. Which I think is an explanation as to why they collect items to use as simple tools.
Canines not only imprint but they remember and reason things out this includes many domestic dogs and all the wild canines I have hunted. Which is why in my older age I personally find if more difficult to kill fox, coyotes, wolves and crows.
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charlie
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby charlie elk » January 19th, 2013, 8:53 pm

shaman wrote:Second: Are turkey's movements governed by anything beyond randomness?

My definition of random is rather encompassing, for example; an unexpected predator shows up the turkey hunkers down, runs or flies. When the threat is gone the turkey goes about its life, if hungry it eats and if the food is good in the new location it stays there. If new hens are cooperative so much the better. If roost trees are good it very likely roosts there until it is bumped by another random event, in which case it might fly right back to where it started from. I do not think the turkey has any memory of its previous location other than a behavioral pattern.
In contrast a deer will remember and come back to the original area as they are very territorial, turkeys are not.

shaman wrote:On the other hand, I can tell you that turkeys do get shy to a blind. If you miss a gob, you probably will not see him anywhere near that blind for the rest of season. Go figure.

Turkeys have 2 dimensional eyesight so they cannot "see" the blind rather they have patterned the area (imprinted) and avoid the geographic location. If the blind is moved their behavior around should be normal.
On rare, very rare times I have missed or my buddy missed I have called the gob back within 30-40 minutes. Not every time but enough that it has convinced me they have no memory.
shaman wrote:Now, I can see that the random idea does explain this up to a point. Turkeys respond to the immediate environment, and certain landforms seem to funnel them into remarkably similar behavior-- day to day as well as generation to generation.

I agree.
shaman wrote:Third: Can turkeys become call shy? I would say yes, but I do not think it is purely from over-exposure to calls. I am a hunter that spends 100% of his time hunting the same 200 acres all season. My experience has been that I must frequently change out my calls over the season in order to be successful. It is not a for-sure thing. In fact, I did very little to change my calls after the first week this past season, but there were fewer times this past year that I actually had gobblers respond to me. In most years, I find that I have to change the physical call as well as the method in order to get a positive response from gobblers. In a lot of circumstances, I know I am calling to the same gobbler. At some point in the season what got him hot the first week ceases to be effective. It may be a lot of things, but I believe that part of it is the gobbler has come to the call previously and been frustrated that a hen did not present herself for breeding.

I respectfully disagree, but that could be how we define "call shy". I don't think turkeys become afraid of turkey sounds or shun the sounds of another turkey. I think when most hunters start talking about call shy birds what is really happening is the flock dynamics are changing. In other words the turkeys are talking different using different turkey words so it is not a matter of changing physical calls, the sequence or volume as it is changing the turkey words. For example as we get in the late seasons toms are starting to seek out each other to form the summer time bachelor groups so they start to ignore hen yelps in favor of gobbler yelps, clucks and purrs.
Turkeys can be called all year long using the "right" turkey talk, it changes as the seasons progress. I am so over the edge addicted to turkey I am out there in the summer, fall, winter and spring time calling to em.
I do not know that all I have written is the way it is. It is my hypothesis' based on studying published research, exchanging ideas with fellow hunters, biologists and years of observing turkeys, I am opened minded as I too am still learning.
later,
charlie
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby ticklishtompro » January 19th, 2013, 11:10 pm

I think an important thing to establish is what you consider memory. I think all to often people give turkeys too much credit. They are not smart, but extremely dumb. That is why the slightest thing they see, they run for their life from. They can't think things through so their first reaction is run!

As far as memory. I think their instinct for survival is the key. I stress the INSTINCT. This being said I think they do have a form of memory, if something bad happens in a certain place, they are very wary of going there. They are not sure of why but their instinct tells them this. Remember they have a brain the size of a pea, and are not able to reason things out.

All animals live for 3 reasons, eat, reproduce, and survive. That is it. We will never know for sure what is going on in their little brains, but this is what I think.

Keep up the disscussion, I love it!
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Re: Do Turkeys Have Memory?

Postby shaman » January 20th, 2013, 9:43 am

Memory and the ability to learn certainly seems to be an arguable point.

If I had to come down one way or the other, I believe that I would vote for turkeys having a fairly well-developed memory. They can create maps inside their heads. They know how to get to and from their favorite places. They know where the food is and were it is not.

The idea of imprinting in this discussion is kind of confused. Imprinting, as I understand it, is a pretty narrow thing. Chicks imprint on their mother, and learn to follow her around. There is also a window where chicks become imprinted to respond to predators. Beyond that, I am not so sure you can talk about imprinting as a separate process from learning.

As to the call-shy issue, Charlie, see my second post on the issue. I think we're in pretty close agreement.

Now, again I have to ask myself: if I believe turkeys can remember, why do turkeys keep coming back to my back yard? Why would gobblers come back to a blind after being put in mortal peril? I think I have an answer.

The best way I have for looking at it is to look at the turkey's worldview. It is pretty simplistic. He does not have much of a theory of mind-- that is, he cannot speculate what is going through another being's mind. This is probably a good thing for turkeys. If they were as suspicious as nature would let them, they'd all go huddle in the middle of a field somewhere and starve to death. They see each encounter with a predator as a one-off thing, and it takes something pretty spectacular for them to get so scared that they will avoid a particular place or situation for ever more. In some cases they do. In some, they can be back in a half-hour looking for the hen. My guess is the ones that never ever come back to a blind are possibly experiencing a less-than-common insight, or they get involved somewhere else. Perhaps it takes the sting of a pellet.

This is an important discussion. For one thing, it calls into question the idea of hunting pressure. I am not sure I can dismiss hunter-induced stress on the turkeys, but I do think there is room for speculation. My belief is that a lot of what we see as "pressure" is just the turkeys changing mood naturally. I see that a lot on my place, and there is not a whole lot of pressure on those birds.

Yes, I do believe there is room for turkeys becoming call-shy. If I work a gobbler on Monday with a given call and I make contact with him on Wednesday, I am probably going to have to hit him with something else in order to convince him to come in. Whether it is his taste changing due to me or some inner motivation I cannot say. However, I do find that, working the same birds all season as I do, I have to be able to give them something new on a regular basis if I want to be successful. I have a neighbor who, from the Opener to the Closer, seems to work the same loud pot call in the same overly-aggressive fashion. He seldom has any luck.

Another corollary issue this brings up is exactly how experienced can a mature gobbler get? With no memory, how could a gob get wise? I know there are a lot of guys on here that only hunt mature gobblers and will let a 2 yr old walk. My history on the subject indicates that when you manage to hit a gob's button, it does not make a whole lot of difference how old he is. The old guys and the young-uns can be just as taken or just as hesitant. In fact, it has generally been the older strutters that have been the easiest for me to call in. That may be a fluke, but there it is. Even my arch-nemesis Mister Natural was easily fooled one day, but I botched the shot and never got another chance at him.

There are going to be a lot of young and new hunters reading all this, and they will come away scratching their heads. My advice to them is this:

1) You can see how even experienced turkey hunters differ on some key issues. There is nothing here that is hard and fast. Do not accept anything as gospel. Go out and learn for yourself.
2) Most of the wisdom about things like call-shyness, hunting pressure, etc. are there for one thing: excuses for turkey hunters to wimp out and stay home or go in early. None of this should dissuade you from going out and hunting or staying out until the last minute of legal hunting.
3) It is my experience that there are very few days during season where a given gobbler is going to be receptive to calling. There is no good way to predict those days. My admonition is to go out and stay out. Perseverance will conquer gobblers more than anything else.
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