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One year later: checking in with Purdue's presidentially pardoned turkeys

Slow and steady across their tree-shaded run, Peanut Butter and Jelly walk almost in unison as if they were attached at the hip. After a busy year of being in the national spotlight as the annual pardoned turkeys, the pair are happily settling into retirement in West Lafayette. 

The 2021 National Thanksgiving Turkeys are now one and a half years old, having reached the maturity point of growing a more noticeable, dark beard on their chests that will continue to lengthen as they age. Jason Fields, the primary caretaker of Peanut Butter and Jelly and manager of the Poultry Unit facilities at the Animal Sciences Research and Education Center (ASREC), said the birds are currently going through their natural molting process, not exactly looking their prettiest at the moment, as he bent down to their level to better pet their heads and stroke their backs. 

On a pleasant fall morning, the turkeys were showing off, working to puff up their feathers for the guests they were entertaining. Fields explained they’ve enjoyed spending the last year traveling around campus and the state to meet their fans. 

“Their first trip off campus was in April for the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry, where they were the guests of honor. They both had pictures taken with a few important people, and they were treated like celebrities,” Fields said. “Then in August, they spent the entire month at the Indiana State Fair, where we actually picked up their entire house and brought it with them to ensure they would be happy and comfortable.” 

Four-year-old Ellie Clayton meets Peanut Butter and Jelly at the 2022 Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry. Four-year-old Ellie Clayton meets Peanut Butter and Jelly at the 2022 Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry.

Along with their large fenced-in yard, Peanut Butter and Jelly live in a large shed that has been converted into a house for them, equipped with both heating and air conditioning.  

Knowing Fields had just placed a snack of fresh grapes and blueberries in their feeders, Peanut Butter and Jelly slowly waddled their way up their enclosure ramp. Since the turkeys aren’t being raised for eating, they live on a weight maintenance diet, Fields explained, working to keep them at around 40 pounds each. 

“They’re kind of clumsy when you watch them, but that’s just the way they are,” Fields said. “Throughout the year some of our animal behavior and animal welfare classes have come out to ASREC to socialize with Peanut Butter and Jelly for credit in those classes, and they’ll give them treats and spend time with them in the enclosure."  

Having visitors throughout the spring semester helped prepare the birds for their trips to Indianapolis, Fields said, as Peanut Butter and Jelly have grown to enjoy the attention and company of other people and their noisiness. 

As Fields has cared for the birds over the last year, he’s grown familiar with their personalities, noting Peanut Butter is the more social bird, while Jelly tends to be more dominant. When it comes to telling the two apart from one another, Fields said their looks match their personalities. Jelly’s face is a bit more scrunched to look grumpy, while Peanut Butter’s eyes are more open and visible. 

The famous pair rarely ever spend time apart, primarily sticking by each other’s sides, Fields said. If one bird wanders to the other side of their run, the other will quickly work their way back over to be by their side. 

In addition to student visitors, the turkeys are also visited weekly by staff from the Purdue’s Laboratory Animal Program to ensure they’re both happy and healthy and on track to live a long life, which could be anywhere between three and five years of age, Fields said. As Peanut Butter and Jelly settle into retirement, he said much of their golden years will be spent sunbathing together, pecking on fresh snacks and anticipating much attention from their human caregivers. 

Looking to the incoming National Thanksgiving Turkeys for 2022, Fields said Peanut Butter and Jelly wish the new pair all the best as they enjoy the grandeur that comes with a trip to the White House, along with a happy life in retirement as well. 

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