What I Learned From Wild Turkeys

It’s Groundhog Day, but I want to talk about wild turkeys. I was watching this PBS documentary from their program, Nature, called “My Life As A Turkey,” which won an Emmy for outstanding nature programming. In it, we follow the story of a man raising a flock of wild turkey hatchlings from birth. It might not seem like the most exciting film to watch, but the man who tells the story, a Naturalist named Joe Hutto, is engaging.

Watch the Full Documentary at pbs.org

“My Life as a Turkey” -watch the full documentary at pbs.org


He cares for the birds day and night for more than a year and a half. To be a turkey “parent’ obviously required serious dedication – hand feeding them, walking them, protecting them from predators, teaching them everything a parent would need to in order for them to live wild in the forest.

I learned many things about wild turkeys in this film, but beyond that I was reminded of something important I could apply to my life. The following quote perfectly sums up the deeper lesson to take away:

“So many of us live either in the past or in the future and betray the moment, and in some sense we forget to live our lives, and the wild turkey’s were always reminding me to live my life. I think as humans we have this peculiar predisposition to be always thinking ahead and living a little bit in the future, anticipating the next minute, the next hour, the next day, and wild turkeys don’t do that. They are convinced that everything that they need – all their needs will be met only in the present moment and in this space. The world is not better a half a mile through the woods, it’s not better an hour from now, it’s not better tomorrow, this is as good as it gets.”

The turkeys are alert, as Joe describes, to everything in their environment, from the hawks flying above, to the grasshoppers in the long grasses, to the activity of the other animals and plants in the forest. They are very engaged, as we can see in the film, in their moment of being.

When I’m watching them I’m thinking about how I am different than a turkey, or different from animals in general. I know as a human I have a higher order of self-awareness than a turkey, but when I see the turkeys so present of their immediate environment I reflect on the fact that my higher awareness takes me out of the present moment so often. I’m often thinking about the meaning of something, or about accomplishing little things that I hope will bring me better things in the future. I didn’t see the turkeys setting goals or working on becoming a better turkey, they were living fully present in each moment. So while I am considered to be more evolved than a turkey and therefore can enjoy my advanced status, as it were, I am also part animal, and that animal part of me which is like the turkeys and fully present in the moment often gets overshadowed by the human part of me that wants to think about my future. Watching the turkeys really gave me a great example of living life in the moment.

As I continue to advance on my spiritual path I need these kinds of reminders to help me let go more and more of my fixation on what I will be in the future, or of not being what I was in the past. I am reminded to get back to the simplicity of the present moment. If I am always in a place of not quite being satisfied with my life, thinking that if I just did this this thing then I’ll be happy, or after I do that then I will be good, then I am perpetually becoming something, and never being anything. There is more power, I’ve observed, in being than in becoming, therefore I will do my best to remember the turkeys, and be fully present. In thanksgiving, I dedicate this post to all my wild turkey peeps out there.

(Check out other recommended documentaries on Brian’s list of Movies to Expand Your Awareness)