Thursday, February 2, 2012

Everything You Wanted to Know (and then some) about Wild Turkey Anatomy

Do you know your turkey parts?
There are some strange ones, to be sure....  Let's start at the top, shall we?


Snood:  Located just above the beak, the snood is short (about half an inch long) when the turkey (male) is relaxed.   When the turkey struts (to attract a mate), the snood engorges with blood and extends to hang down over the beak.  According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the snood has no known function.  However, female turkeys appear to prefer turkeys with large snoods.  Sounds like an important function to me.

OK, now I'd like to say "EW" just for the record.  Also, I don't know how many times I "saw" a turkey without ever noticing this thing.....until I saw a turkey head in a close up photo.   Have you noticed it before?  And if so, did you know what it was?

Eyes, Ears and Nostrils:  Turkeys have a poor sense of smell.  As a side note, did you know that turkey vultures have see-through nostrils?


Turkeys do have keen vision and have a field of vision of about 270 degrees.  By contrast, we humans have a field of vision of about 180 degrees.  They are able to see in color.  They can see movement almost a hundred yards away so it's hard to sneak up on them.  They do not see well at night, though.

Turkeys ears are just small holes just behind their eyes.  They have excellent hearing.

Dewlap:  The dewlap connects the neck to the head, just under the beak.  Both males and females have them, but it is usually more prominent on the males.  The dewlap turns red when the turkey gets excited.


Beard:  A turkey's beard hangs from its chest and can be anywhere from an inch to 10 inches long.  Sometimes, female turkeys have them (just to confuse us humans).  The beard is a strange mixture of hair/feather and is coarse, like a horse's tail.  Once it gets too long, it starts dragging on the ground and usually gets tattered and broken off.  Once the beard is 10 inches long, it is a sure sign that the turkey is at least three years old.


Wing Feathers:  Yes, wild turkeys can fly.   In fact, wild turkeys roost in trees at night for safety.  Domestic turkeys can't fly....they are too fat.  While strutting around on the ground, tom turkeys drag their wing feathers on the ground as the puff out their breast feathers and tail.  The tips of their wing feathers become worn and frayed from being dragged on the ground.

Fan:  Every little kid's art project!  The fan is the spread of tail feathers in their full glory, guaranteed to impress the ladies.

Spurs:  Both male and female turkeys have spurs, but they are more pronounced on males.  The males use them to fight off other males when they are trying to attract a female during mating season.  Spurs protrude off the back of the legs, a few inches above the feet.  Watch out!  They can be used against humans, too.  If you are near a gaggle of turkeys, beware.  If you run, they can run faster!  It's better to stand tall, wave your arms, or a coat or umbrella and make a lot of noise (appear dominant).  If you run, they feel it is their obligation to chase you and prove that they are better than you.  A turkey can run up to 20 mph, so unless you can beat that, do not rely on running as your escape plan.  Click here to see some poor innocent people being attacked by turkeys roaming through suburbia.   From what I've read, they also use the spurs when they attack people.  Sounds like it would hurt....

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Caruncles:  Caruncles are fleshy, bulbous bumps that grow on the neck and head.  These are usually larger on male turkeys and grow red and engorged with blood when the tom struts or when it is aggressive.

Caruncles (and an example of the face turning blue)

When I first posted a turkey photo to this blog, I wasn't even sure whether it was male or female.  I have since learned that only male turkeys have the irridescent feathers, yet another one of their ploys for attracting a female.  Females, on the other hand, have drab brown or gray feathers.  Makes sense in the whole camouflage world of birds.  Males are bright.  Females blend in for safety in raising their young.  

Ben Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird of the United States.  I wonder if it was because the various turkey facial parts can be red, pale (white) or blue, depending on the mood of the turkey!  

Any questions?

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