Science and Chill

Do turkeys sleep in trees? The truth behind the fowl Rick and Morty joke

A Thanksgiving special fact check.

Originally Published: 
rick and morty season 5 turkey
Adult Swim

The first-ever Rick and Morty Thanksgiving special may have aired closer to Independence Day, but that’s not the only point of confusion in a hilarious episode where Morty and Rick become turkeys to get a presidential pardon.

Despite what happens in “Rick & Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular,” we know for a fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not become a mutated giant spider as the result of polio vaccine experiments. But what about another unresolved running joke in Season 5, Episode 6: Do turkeys really sleep in trees?

In this episode’s cold open, Morty accidentally destroys the U.S. Constitution, Liberty Bell, Lincoln Memorial, and Statue of Liberty with a single laser shot. When the statue cracks, a giant French assassin robot that was apparently hiding within is unleashed on New York City to make matters worse.

So he and Rick embark on a quest to trick the President of the United States —  voiced again by the always-excellent Keith David — into granting them a pardon. It being Thanksgiving, they do this by transforming themselves into turkeys.

The familiar contest of egos between Rick and the President is as vibrant as ever. But things take an even more apocalyptic turn when a regular turkey becomes infused with the President’s DNA, turning it into a tyrannical fowl that threatens to take over America using an army of turkey supersoldiers.

With Rick and Morty’s help, the real President reactivates hibernating members of two ancient alien species who look suspiciously like Native Americans and Pilgrim stereotypes.

Shortly after that twist, “Turkey Man” (as Morty dubs the despotic bird-human chimera) drops a bombshell about turkey behavior.

The real founders of American society.

Adult Swim

When the President, Morty, Rick, and the ancient aliens confront Turkey Man and the bird army in a cornfield (very Thanksgiving), they have the following exchange:

President: Look around. You can’t beat our ancient warriors.
Turkey Man: Can’t I? My kind has always dealt with predators. That’s why we sleep in trees. And that’s why, in the wild, we fly.

Somewhat abruptly, the scene ends, and Morty and Rick are off again, this time flying to D.C. to try and stop a missile (disguised in the Washington Monument) that can transform all American turkeys into humanoid monsters from being released. But Morty is less concerned about the missile in the obelisk and more transfixed on Turkey Man’s revelatory aside about turkey sleeping habits. He asks Rick if it is true — that turkeys sleep in trees to avoid predators.

Morty: Is it true what Turkey Man said? That turkeys sleep in trees?
Rick: Who the hell cares, Morty!?

Unfortunately, Morty and the audience are left hanging — and some are just as transfixed by the question as Morty. Even fans on the Rick and Morty subreddit began asking one another: Do turkeys sleep in trees? Was Turkey Man telling the truth?

“Turkey Man” is a regular turkey infused with the President’s DNA.

Adult Swim

According to the All About Birds website, “At sundown turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upward from limb to limb to a high roost spot.”

In other words, yes, turkeys do sleep in trees.

(Roost, by the way, is a term used for the place where birds and bats rest — and sleep — at night.)

Turkey Man’s claim that turkeys can fly is also true, but is Rick and Morty correct about the reason why turkeys sleep in trees? Is it an adaptation to help turkeys avoid predators?

The government website for the State of Indiana gets a little more explicit: “Although turkeys spend most of their time on the ground during the day, they sleep in trees at night,” it reads.

“Turkeys cannot see well in the dark. Sleeping in trees provides protection from predators that roam and can see at night. They fly up to roost at dusk, and fly down at dawn to begin their daily rituals.”

The note about their vision is also interesting to note. There’s a scene in “Thanksploitation Spectacular” where a human soldier who is transformed into a turkey panics after he’s overwhelmed by the “270 degrees” of vision because it’s “too many degrees!”

According to several sources, that’s also factually accurate. Despite Rick and Morty’s freewheeling approach to science fiction, consider most of the fowl-related information in this episode to be science fact.

So now we know where turkeys sleep but do they dream? Do they have nightmares about FDR’s spider form? Maybe!

Rick and Morty Season 5 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.

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