The Weird Anatomy of Wild Turkeys

The Spurs The spurs on a gobbler’s legs are an indication of age and prized by hunters — the longer and sharper the better. Spurs are formed from a bony core and covered by keratin, which also forms the scales of the turkey’s legs. The spurs on gobblers’ legs continue growing, starting as nubs when they’re jakes and then growing longer with age. It also changes color when the gobbler is excited. Turkeys aren’t the only birds with a wattle, either. With just a slight turn of the head turkeys can easily see 360 degrees. Some researchers believe turkeys and chickens have greater color receptors than other birds, and also might be able to more greatly recognize movement. The Ears: Thank goodness turkeys have a lousy sense of smell or hunters might never kill one without the use of a rifle. The Beard: Is there anything more gaudy than a gobbler’s beard? These feathers are called filoplumes.
Turkey hunting 6
The wild turkey is hailed by many as our nation’s favorite game bird — although waterfowl and upland hunters might have an argument or two about that.

Barrels of ink and terabytes of data have been written about the five wild turkey subspecies found from Maine to Mexico, Florida to Washington state. If you’re a hunter then no doubt you’ve examined your harvested turkeys time and again and have questioned: What’s this and what’s that? Why does this thing on its beak shrink? How can a turkey see me flick a mosquito from 100 yards? Here are some answers.

The Snood
The snood is that funny thingy hanging off the top of a male turkey’s beak. They’re soft and fleshy, like the knobby skin on the turkey’s neck. When a gobbler’s excited and strutting, the snood grows and hangs off the side of the beak.

If a gobbler’s running — coming to your call or decoy on a rope — the snood is flopping around. When engorged it turns dark red. Some research studies have found that longer snoods are considered more dominant among males and desirable by hen turkeys. Apparently, in the turkey world, size does matter.

Spurs are a turkey's defense mechanism, and also are coveted by hunters. These of from a bird killed in Virginia by longtime hunter Danny Ayers.
Spurs are a turkey’s defense mechanism, and also are coveted by hunters. These of from a bird killed in Virginia by longtime hunter Danny Ayers.

The Spurs
The spurs on a gobbler’s legs are an indication of age and prized by hunters — the longer and sharper the better. Spurs are used for fighting and self-defense. In either situation, a turkey’s churning, slashing legs armed with sharp spurs can deliver severe injuries.

Spurs are formed from a bony core and covered by keratin, which also forms the scales of the turkey’s legs. This keratin is similar to human toe or finger nails. It grows on the turkey leg scales until…

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