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What’s A Snood?  A Wattle?  Talking Turkey About A Popular Bird
Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 by eNature
A Male Wild Turkey showing wattles, snood and beard
A Male Wild Turkey showing wattles, snood and beard

It’s almost Thanksgiving and many of us are thinking about our annual feast and the turkey that’s often at the center of it.

But how much do you know about the creature that many folks think is our REAL national bird?

Turkeys are interesting birds— they’re large, colorful and hard to miss when they’re in a demonstrative mood.  Many researchers have devoted their entire career to studying them and their complex social structure.

A Bird For All Americans
As recently as a generation ago, folks rarely encountered Wild Turkeys.  Hunting pressure had eliminated them from much of their original range.  But extensive reintroduction efforts brought the turkey back from the brink and just about every state in the continental US now has populations of wild turkeys, some in the tens of thousands.  You can see from the range map to right how widely distributed turkey’s now are.

Snoods, Wattles and Beards
So what exactly is a turkey’s snood?  Male, or tom, turkeys have a number of features that experts believe are intended to attract female turkeys (hens).  These include the familiar fleshy red wattles on its neck and throat as well as a fleshy mass over their beak known as a snood.  As turkeys are polygamous and happy to mate with as many hens as they can attract, a seems reasonable to conclude that a more spectacular wattle and snood will result in more breeding success.

A tom’s plumage follows the same principles.  Bright colors and unique features rule the day.  His feathers have areas of green, copper, bronze, red, purple, and gold iridescence.  Most males also have a beard; in reality a group of specialized feathers growing from the center of his breast.  The photo to the above right clearly shows many of the tom’s irresistable (to hens at least) qualities.

Strutting Their Stuff
Males attract hens by a behavior known as “strutting”, in which they display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings.  Gobbling, drumming or booming and spitting as signs of social dominance are also techniques toms use to attract females. 

Sounds a bit like highschoolers at a Friday night football game!

Overcoming Adversity
Wildlife managers estimate that the entire population of Wild Turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 in the early 20th century. By the 1930s,they were almost totally extirpated from Canada and found only in remote pockets within the US.  Populations have rebounded spectacularly since programs across the country were put in place to protect and encourage the breeding of surviving wild populations.  The rebound has reached the point where hunting has been legalized in in the lower 48 states and current estimates place the entire Wild Turkey population at over 7 million.

Wild Turkey or Bald Eagle?
It’s not your bartender taking your order, but rather an interesting bit of American history.  In the early days of the republic, Benjamin Franklin strongly objected to the choice of the Bald Eagle as our national symbol, preferring the Wild Turkey. 

Franklin thought the Bald Eagle’s habit of stealing prey caught by other birds, particularly ospreys, an innaproppriate quality and wrote,  “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America”.

We tend to agree with Ben— the turkey, a uniquely North American bird, is an American original and worthy of our respect.


What makes a Turkey's meat white or dark? »

Listen to a turkey gobbling-- and put in on your phone as a ring tone »

The National Wild Turkey Federation has lots more info »



I live close to that little southern most dot in california,on the websites map , and have only recently seen wild turkeys in the warner springs area ,, the last 2 years only.
I have never seen wild turkeys before this in southern califonia,, this is great to hear.

Posted by Steve from Hemet ca on 11/22

Well Benjamin Franklin , you got it rite,He said ” Bald Eagle‚Äôs habit of stealing prey caught by other birds, reminds me of the polictical mind set of the 21 st centery . Steal from the working class and give it to the lazy class.

Posted by terileigh on 11/23

I read that a wild turkey’s diet is about 80 percent grass.
They are not native to Western USA.
Turkey’s also eat native frogs and lizards.

I want more frogs and lizards.  Get rid of the turkeys west of the Rocky Mtns.

Of course turkey hunting licences are easy revenue for the States.

Posted by Greg Freer on 11/23

I live in Sonoma County California and we have Wild turkeys running through downtown all year long.  There are hundreds of them here in the west county from the Laguna De Santa Rosa all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Posted by Deefburger on 11/23

We are fortunate to have Wild Turkeys here in Florida. Where I love, I have had them stroll across the lawn and play “peek-a-boo” with me around the corner of my home.

Posted by Gail on 11/23

I also live in Sonoma County, Calif.  Wild turkeys have become something of a pest here, destroying habitat for other species.  It’s a shame.  They are very interesting and pretty birds, but destructive. At least here in the wildlife preserves. 
Have seen them in downtown Santa Rosa as well.  Maybe they are looking for a more upscale location.

Posted by glenda on 11/23

We live within the city limits of Poughkeepsie, NY and have up to 11 wild turkeys at a time feeding under our bird feeder.  Sometimes they wander up to the patio.  It is great to have them visit us every day and they seem undaunted by our 85 pound dog.

Posted by Mary Heller on 11/23

a snood is a type of headscarf worn by Orthodox Jewish women

Posted by Emily on 11/24

A snood is any binding for a woman’s hair, made like a sac, usually worn in the 19th century to hold the woman’s voluminous hair neatly.  It was often made of netting, with very large holes, like macrame.  Apparently it is also the fleshy growth over a turkey’s nose.  Who woulda thought?

To the poster who doesn’t like turkeys because they eat frogs and lizards:

There are enough frogs and lizards to go around.  Some frogs eat little lizards, and some larger lizards eat little frogs.  More survive to fill the niche, that’s all.

“Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em.  Little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitem.”

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 11/28

Not sure where you got your range map, but wild turkeys are very much present in Eastern PA. This map is more inclusive and it differentiates between the different subspecies that are native to various areas of the U.S., including the far West. Any animal that no longer has its predators can become a real pest; here in Eastern PA our biggest out-of-control pest is whitetailed deer.

Posted by Jean Nick on 11/28

The tom turkey’s snood looks very different depending on his mood. When he is feeding and relaxed, or a bit nervous, and not displaying the snood retracts and sticks up and out, allowing him to eat without biting it by mistake (top picture); but when he puffs up his feathers and fans his tail feathers his snood gets much longer, puffed up, and floppy and it hangs down beside or in front of, and well below, his beak.

Posted by Jean Nick on 11/28

I used to live in the panhandle of Idaho, and one time we had a small flock of about 7 or 8 turkeys just strolling through our neighborhood, right across our neighbor’s front yard. It was neat to see. They had come out of a wooded area at the end of our street.

Posted by LeeAnne on 12/1

Whoops, I wasn’t finished. I’ll pick up where I left off.

They had come out of a wooded area at the end of our street. There were three or four young toms and a couple of hens, and the big tom, the leader of the flock. They walked down the length of our street, left the subdivision and went into the woods on the other side. We walked into the woods the next day and found not even a trace of them. It was a cool experience, though. We never saw them again.

Posted by LeeAnne on 12/1

I have to say I think the bald eagle is the better choice because it is much more majestic and striking, not to mention visible.
Speaking of birds stealing from birds, my son was fishing at my lake house in WC OH several years ago and witnessed an osprey’s talons snatch a large fish out of the mouth of a sea gull in mid-air.  Of course I wasn’t there and missed the whole thing,:(

Posted by Kathie on 12/3
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