Yesterday morning, a Twitter user sent out a video showing a flock of turkeys circling a dead cat. That tweet from @TheReal_JDavis is now up to nearly 50,000 retweets since 9 am yesterday, and people are losing their goddamn minds over what could possibly be happening in this clip.
If you haven’t seen this truly bizarre footage yet, then you NEED to watch this right now (direct Twitter link):
This makes no fucking sense. Why would a flock of turkeys be circling a dead cat in the middle of the road? Are these satanic turkeys claiming this cat’s soul for the afterlife? Was the cat secretly the leader of this turkey flock and they’re mourning the loss of their fallen ruler? Nobody knows.
This clip is so confusing that over at VICE they contacted the ‘best minds in ornithology‘ to ask them what in the fuck could possibly be going on here. Unsurprisingly, the experts weren’t able to provide any real explanations for what might be happening here.
Of all the explanations given to VICE by ornithologists, this is the only one that provides any real insight at all:
According to Daniel A Cristol, an ornithologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, the whole thing was “very odd.”
“They are following a leader, which is normal, but for some reason the leader is circling around the dead cat,” Cristol wrote in an email. He could only offer speculation. One possible theory he offered was that the leader was literally keeping an eye on the cat. “Birds see out of only one eye for most of their visual field, so if they are walking and keeping something in view they will walk in a circle.”
Cristol called it an emergent phenomenon—a system in which small units of life give way to some larger entity. In this case, we have “an emergent phenomenon that looks like some weird religious ceremony,” Cristal told me. via
Over at Verge Science, bloggers Alessandra Potenza and Rachel Becker believe they’ve tracked down the real reason these turkeys are circling this dead cat in the middle of the road:
Why in the world are the birds doing this? They might be performing what’s called a “predator inspection,” says Alan Krakauer, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, who studies the behavioral ecology of birds, in an email to The Verge. Sometimes, animals lower down in the food chain approach predators — a behavior that can be seen as risky, but can actually help the prey. Making the predator aware that the prey know it’s there can sometimes scare the predator away. The “inspection” also allows the prey to check how determined the predator is to attack, and can alert other animals to the danger. via
Biologist Alan Krakauer says he’s witnessed this behavior once before with turkeys circling a coyote. This is, of course, anecdotal and though this person is an expert we’d need to see a lot more research into this phenomenon before we’re able to say for certain that this is the reason a flock of turkeys were circling a dead cat in the middle of the road.