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What’s A Snood?  A Wattle?  Talking Turkey About Our Favorite Bird
Posted on Saturday, November 17, 2012 by eNature
A Male Wild Turkey showing wattles, snood and beard
A Male Wild Turkey showing wattles, snood and beard
© http://www.naturespicsonline.com/

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 »

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Comments

Turkeys are fascinating birds, and very smart, too. But they are so numerous in Oregon. They are even strutting along the streets in our small town. Many people have complained of the enormous mess these birds make on their patios and gardens.
Eventually something had to be done here, and they were hunted to decrease their numbers here in town.  They are prolific breeders when undisturbed.

Posted by Erna Ruben on 11/18

I’m happy that the wild turkeys have mada a comeback, but in Hawaii, they chase the nenes away.  I’m not sure if harm is done to the native geese or not. I also don’t understand why turkeys are allowed to roam in Hawaii.

Posted by Joan LaGuardia on 11/18

We had wild turkey’s when we lived on the Wekiva River in Seminole County Florida. My husband had 50 pound bags of corn feed, as soon as he walked around back to open the garage door they came zooming in and patiently waited for their “breakfast”.

Loved to watch the males “strut their stuff”, provided many hours of entertainment watching them.

Nothing more interesting than nature to watch.

lmg

Posted by Laura Ginn on 11/18

We have them along the Anacostia River w/in the city limits of DC!

Posted by Greg on 11/18

I’m in northeastern PA and we have lots of wild turkeys.  I find the males very interesting with their displays.  Most interesting is all the tiny dents the males have put in many car fenders when they see their reflection and attempt to peck at the intruder!

Posted by Meg Irizarry on 11/18

We have wild turkeys in Idaho. My second graders love to study about them, thanks to Fish and Game’s program “Wild About Turkeys”.

Posted by Mo on 11/18

I run a nature center in Westchester County NY, outside NYC.  The wild turkeys that frequent our bird feeder stations are great entertainment for young and old.  They make their presence known by coming to the driveway or peeking in at the sliding glass door when they see me.  That’s turkey language for “great, you’re here so plz feed us now!”

Posted by Cindy J Polera on 11/19

The range show few in the Appalacian Mountains.  We live at 3,000’ in Western NC and often see multiple families while drive up to our home.

Posted by Paul Rybak on 11/19

We have abundant wild turkey here in the high peaks of the Northern Catskills in upstate New York. (elevation 2400+) We love the displays of the Toms, and the sight of the skittering linen of babies following Mom in Spring and early Summer.  I do have compassion for those in other states where the turkey may be a nuisance…we have a similar problem with Canadian geese in suburban areas here.  All these problems disappear, however, whenever Mr. and Mrs. Coyote are around, or Mr. Fisher Cat, or Mrs. Bobcat.  So, it the lack of predation, and not the success of the species reproduction cycle, that is the problem. The predators do not stop at turkeys, though…other birds, squirrels, wood ducks, fawns, chipmunks, babies of all species, beloved cats and little dogs are at risk.  Our turkey population is kept in check by the predators….and we mind our cats and dogs and newborn horses and livestock for the same reason.

Posted by elisabeth on 11/19

I love to tell the story about my experience at the Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur, California some years ago.  We were staying in a cabin and there was a knock at the door the first morning we were there.  I looked at the window and didn’t see anyone.  The knock recurred, so I opened the door and there stood a wild turkey, looking for a handout.  We had some cookies in the room, so I gave him one.  The next morning, the knock came again.  I think he (she?) had become habituated to grubbing for treats.

Posted by Kay Martin on 11/19

How about the flock that paraded through downtown Berkeley, California? And down our residential street? One very large tom, several hens, and even more junior turkeys. They’re aggressive, giving no quarter. And quite beautiful!

Posted by Brad Bunnin on 11/19

While I like turkeys, they really don’t belong in our part of the country.  They were introduced for hunting I’m told.  They are very destructive of the wild habitat and are becoming so numberous that they represent an ongoing problem.

Posted by glenda on 11/19

I live out in the country in South Central Texas. We used to camp at a state park about 90 miles away that had a healthy population of turkeys. In the morning, if you looked out your tent early enough, you could watch them wander thru the campsites in groups of about 20.
About 4 years ago, we started seeing a flock about 2 miles down the road from us. I saw a group of hens last week and wished them to stay in hiding for the next few weeks!

Posted by Cheryl on 11/19

a snood is what Orthodox Jewish women wear on thier head (either that or a wig)

Posted by emily on 11/21
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