Thousands of Baby Turkeys Perish in Airline Transport

Live Baby Chicks Box

“Under such cruel conditions, what happened to the baby turkeys will continue. This should not be allowed to happen.” –from “Turkey deaths are unacceptable” by UPC president Karen Davis, Letter to the editor, San Jose Mercury News Aug. 3, 2006

Some 11,840 baby turkeys (poults) died while being transported by Northwest Airlines in two separate incidents during mid-July. The first occurred on July 13, when more than 9,000 of 11,500 poults, crowded onto a single flight from Detroit to San Francisco, died from suffocation, overheating and dehydration. The birds were being transported from a Hybrid Turkeys farm in Canada to Zacky Farms in Fresno, Ca. for breeding purposes. Then, on July 19, some 2,240 baby turkeys sat for hours in 108-degree heat in Las Vegas after the Air Canada flight they were on developed mechanical problems. According to the Peninsula Humane Society as reported in The San Jose Mercury News on July 22, Northwest, which handles Air Canada’s baggage, disposed of the birds by tossing most of them, dead and dying, into a trash compactor. The Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA is considering pressing charges against Northwest pending an investigation.

It Happens All the Time

Baby birds suffer and die in airline transport all the time. Unlike human passengers and companion animals who fly in weather-controlled, ventilated compartments, day-old chickens, ducks, geese, partridges, pheasants, guinea fowl, quails and turkeys are shipped like luggage, according to post-office rules established in 1924 (The Wall Street Journal, Nov 7, 2001). These birds do not travel as “cargo,” like your cat or dog, but as mail, this being the cheapest way for hatcheries to fly them for use as Easter gifts, science and 4-H projects, breeding, cockfighting, backyard poultry keeping, target practice, or whatever the buyer wants to do with them.

In 2001 Northwest Airlines joined United Airlines and American Airlines in refusing to carry baby birds as mail, after 300 chicks in boxes bound for Ohio were left out in the rain in Minneapolis. At the time, Northwest explained to The Wall Street Journal that between 60 percent and 80 percent of baby birds die on some flights, “often because of excessive heat or poor packaging by hatcheries.” As well, many of the birds get crushed during flights, and they often freeze to death, or they sit unattended in mailrooms on Sundays and during holidays. Often, purchasers simply never pick them up.

Northwest’s decision, in 2001, to stop carrying baby birds as mail sparked a campaign by Murray McMurray Hatchery of Webster City, Iowa. Its lobbying group, Bird Shippers of America, organized small-town hatcheries across Iowa to protest, with the result that Congress voted “to give the U.S. Postal Service the power to force airlines to carry ‘day-old poultry’ and other ‘live animals’ at bargain fares,” according to the WSJ.

“Day-Old Poultry” May Be Several Days Old.

Postal regulations require only that birds be delivered within 72 hours of hatching, with no provisions for food or water. McMurray Hatchery claims that newborn chicks can go without food or water for 72 hours of hatching because, in nature, when chicks hatch with a mother hen, the earliest hatched chicks must wait for all of the chicks to hatch. They survive by absorbing their yolk nutrients during this time. However, in nature, a clutch of chicks normally hatches between 24 and 48 hours – not 72 hours, while even chicks kept for up to 48 hours without food or water can suffer from dehydration, according to The Veterinary Record (1/18/92), which says that “in North America earlier hatching chicks could be held in the incubator for up to 36 hours after hatching.” This is before the flight, which may include layovers, has even begun. Many more chicks die upon reaching their final destination, because the stress and lack of food and water have left them too weak to eat and drink. Birds with dehydrated internal organs do not recover.

Chicks are Air-Mailed in International Trade

Millions of baby birds are shipped by airmail each year. McMurray alone ships 100,000 chicks a week. In 1989, more than 11.5 million “day-old” chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks and guinea fowl were exported from the United Kingdom to other countries, mainly for breeding purposes, with the usual mishaps. In 1990, Compassion in World Farming reported for example that 15,000 chicks were found dead or dying due to a lack of ventilation during a stopover in Gatwick, England on their nine-hour trip on a British Airways flight from Texas to Pakistan.

Baby Roosters are Shipped as “Packing Material”

As a postscript to this writing, UPC received a phone call from a woman in June who was looking for a home for roosters she hadn’t ordered. She said she’d purchased twenty-some hens from the Murray McMurray Hatchery. When the box arrived with an additional three or four baby roosters, she asked the hatchery why, and was told that the roosters were used as packing material to provide extra warmth during shipping.

What Can I Do?
  • Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has introduced Senate Bill 2395 that would remove the U.S. Postal Service’s discretionary authority to help protect birds shipped in the mail and force it, inadvertently, to accommodate the baby bird and cockfighting industries. The bill would force the US Postal Service to require certain airlines to transport birds; require those airlines to transport birds through connecting fights (thus adding hours, even days, to the travel and holding time); and require those airlines to transport birds in temperatures between zero and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Please contact your two US Senators and your House Representative and urge them to oppose S. 2395. To learn your Members of Congress, call the 24-hour Capital Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or go to or

  • Northwest Airlines responds to consumer complaints. Tell Northwest that its horrible treatment of the baby turkeys in July (including throwing live baby turkeys in a trash compactor) will influence your choice of airlines in future travel arrangements. Urge Northwest to stop shipping live birds as mail and request a written response.

    Kristen Shovlin, Director
    Northwest Airlines Customer Care
    PO Box 1908
    Minot, ND 58702
    Phone: 701-420-6282
    Fax: 651-367-8459
    Toll-free: 800-225-2525

  • Contact US Postmaster General John E. Potter and urge the Postal Service to stop shipping live birds as mail. Request a written response.

    The Honorable John E. Potter
    Postmaster General & CEO
    US Postal Service
    475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
    Washington, DC 20260
    Fax: 202-268-2304
    Toll-free: 800-275-8777