“Rats should take notice, pigeons ponder their options: wild turkeys have returned to New England. They’re strutting on city sidewalks, nesting under park benches, roosting in backyards—whole flocks flapping, waggling their drooping, bubblegum-pink snoods at passing traffic, as if they owned the place.”
And it’s true! According to the Audubon Society, there are now about 175,000 wild turkeys across the New England states, all descended from a few Appalachian turkeys resettled north to avoid the total extinction of northern turkeys.
Turkeys are not, however, the kind of birds content to fade into the background. They’re famously confident, sometimes annoying, and occasionally aggressive.
To mark the occasion of American Thanksgiving, we thought we’d ask a representative sample of 130 New Englanders about their wild turkey experiences, emotions, and top-of-mind associations. Because when it comes to topics as contentious as turkey, traditional polling just won’t get the job done.
Along the way, we uncovered some fascinating truths about the fraught coexistence of humans and turkeys in New England.
Firstly, turkey encounters are hardly rare occurrences for New Englanders. 67% of New Englanders (or their family or friends) have had direct encounters with wild turkeys.
Thankfully, the sentiment associated with most of these turkey encounters was remarkably positive. Common emotions were joy and surprise, leavened by a healthy dose of caution.
Here are some particularly interesting accounts of turkey encounters. Be forewarned that the narratives can be quite raw and harrowing:
Despite all of these encounters, a full 83% of New Englanders thought that the current population level of wild turkeys was either appropriate or too low. Only a small minority (9%) agreed with the statement that, “the only good turkey in New England is roasted on a platter with a side of gravy.”
Most of our interviewees were very much in line with the views of Benjamin Franklin, here brought to life by Jill Lepore in her New Yorker article:
“Benjamin Franklin, writing in 1784, thought the turkey ‘a much more respectable Bird’ than the bald eagle, which was ‘a Bird of bad moral Character,’ while the turkey was, if ‘a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.’”
In a shocking turn of events to all of us at Glimpse, 56% of New Englanders agreed with Franklin and went with turkeys over bald eagles when it comes to avian moral character.
Here’s a vivid samping of pro-turkey (though not always pro-Ben Franklin!) sentiment:
This 62 year old Vermonter eloquently disagreed however:
And this 51 year old New Hampshire resident did too:
One thing is certain: most New Englanders have a judicious respect for the prowess of wild turkeys. They prefer to avoid one-on-one confrontations at all costs:
Here at Glimpse we believe that listening to the words, emotions, and sentiments of audiences, is one of the best ways to generate actionable and predictive insights about the world. Stay tuned for more Glimpse studies on the American election, global political and economic trends, the vicissitudes of brand performance, and the state of the marketing and communications industries. (Not to mention wild turkey relations.)