Saturday, March 28, 2009

Snoods and Caruncles

The male turkey is gobbling from the hardwoods on Bald Hill. We hear him at dawn. A year ago our neighborhood was flush with turkeys. One early winter morning 40 turkeys landed in our yard and casually walked down the road. This winter turkeys were absent. We've not seen a single one since last summer. The gobbler on the hill is the first of the year.

Soon the males will display to gather a harem of hen turkeys. He will spread his tail feathers, drop his wings, puff up, and strut. Pairs of males often strut together.

Photo below by Maslowski courtesy of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation.

The mature "tom" sports a patriotic red, white, and blue head. And he's got a snood and caruncles! Check out this photo of a tom, taken by John Hafner, courtesy of the the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The headgear of mature male turkeys are described as "skin elaborations" or "fleshy protuberances." The snood is the fleshy thing on top of the beak. The caruncles are the naked growths on the side and front of the neck (those "gorgeous" red things), and then there is the dewlap, another fleshy growth that hangs from the chin. Apparently humans can also get caruncles - yikes!

Males have "beards" that hang from their chest; about 5% of females also have beards, although usually a bit more petite. Jakes, the one year old males, will only watch their male elders display, not decorated enough in their first year to mate.

Ben Franklin was distraught when he heard that the bald eagle was chosen as the national symbol. He considered the eagle to be a bird of "bad moral character," that steals its food from the "fish hawk" (osprey) and is a "a coward that robs the poor"! He considered the turkey to be a "much more respectable bird" worthy of national stature and recognition. He thought it only a minor discretion that the turkey was "a little vain and silly." He thought the turkey courageous, defending its "farmyard" from intruders. I read somewhere that Ben invented bifocals. Perhaps he could not see the snoods and fleshy growths. The majestic bald eagle remains the symbol of the nation (let's ignore that it steals food from others - too close to our current state of affairs) and the turkey can gobble all it wants.

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