After yesterday’s disappointing post, as promised, we have a turkey update!  Our turkeys are now 11 weeks old, and have lost almost all of their adorable ‘baby turkey’ features.  They’re now more in the realm of gangly teenagers.

11 week old Bourbon Red/Royal Palm cross

It’s still a little early to be certain as to our ratio of juvenile males (Jakes) to juvenile females (Jennys).  For some pure breeds there may be genetic differences in coloration to hint as to the sex of each bird by this stage, but as our birds are crossed between Bourbon Red and Standard Bronze, or Bourbon Red and Royal Palm, we have no idea what to expect for coloration at this stage.  We’ve not had turkeys here at the farm before, but we have been watching for developmental cues as to who is who.  Thus far, we expect we have three Jakes, and one Jenny (Tom and Hen are terms are reserved for mature birds that are close to a year in age).  This in part is based on the rate of feather loss on their heads, behavior differences, and some sexually dimorphic differences such as snood size, and tarsal width.

As I’ve already used the word snood, we should get down to some turkey terminology.

Let’s start with snoods.  What the heck is a snood anyway?  A snood is the fleshy bump on the dorsal surface of the beak, just cranial to the eye.  Snoods are unique to turkeys.

When mature, the Toms in the brood will have significant snoods (Photo: Ltshears - Image licenced under CCA 3.0)

This fleshy mass can become quite large in males, up to 5 or 6 inches in length.  Its purpose has been debated, however, studies have shown that wild turkey hens prefer to select long-snooded toms, and research suggests that such toms are healthier, and have a lower parasite load than their short-snooded counterparts.  Like many sexually dimorphic characteristics of bird species, one always has to question why such selection occurs.  Why do male lyre-birds have such ridiculously long tails anyway?

Caruncles…oh my.  Like snoods, caruncles are a feature you will not see in chickens. Caruncles are fleshy nodular masses of tissue, concentrated at the base of the turkey’s neck.

Although females will show some of this nodular growth, it is most predominant in males.  Their exact purpose is unknown, but when turkeys become excited, or agitated, the caruncles become flushed and bright red.  As you can see here, even at this young age, our turkeys become quite flushed at the sight of a circling red tailed hawk.

Average appearance for a 'relaxed turkey'

A circling red-tailed, or cooper's hawk, causes the turkeys to become quite flushed

Turkeys, like chickens, have wattles, also known as a dewlap, but the turkey wattle is slightly different.

Turkeys have a single wattle, mid-line on the neck

The wattle, which extends below the beak, is that inelastic ‘turkey-neck’ flap of skin below the beak that we all hope NOT to acquire ourselves as we age!  Turkeys, unlike chickens, have a single wattle centered along the mid-line of the neck, whereas chickens have two fleshy wattles below each side of the beak.

Turkey wattle

The wattle in turkeys is thought to serve a similar purpose as in chickens.  This skin is highly vascular, and helps the turkeys to shed excess heat, along with panting, when they bake their unfeathered heads in the blazing sunshine.  Don’t ask me why, but our turkeys would prefer to boil their heads while sunbathing, than seek the shade we created for them in the pen.

Another feature that is unique to turkeys is the beard.  Chickens, not even roosters, don’t have beards.  Male turkeys have a rather bristly mass of feathers that grow on the mid-line of the breast. Immature males do not normally have an obvious beard. However, mature Toms will.  Bearded birds though aren’t always necessarily males. Occasionally a female will be observed with a beard.  However, our turkeys as yet are far too young to display this feature.

We’ll leave you with our turkeys enjoying being hand-fed some fresh apple.  We have noticed, that unlike chickens, our turkeys prefer to be hand-fed produce.  Food that is dropped on the ground, becomes less recognizable, and rather suspicious looking.  For some reason, upside-down apples seem especially concerning…

Note that the turkeys in the video were more calm (sans red-tailed hawk flying overhead) and less flushed in color around the head.

I almost forgot.  We mentioned our Bourbon Red/Royal Palm cross last time that is half blind. The good news is that (presumably ‘he’) seems to be adapting quite well.  You might have noticed a tree stump in some of the photographs.

One turkey is blind in one eye, and can't judge distance to make it to the roost at night

We’ve put that near the roost to help him get up to the roosting area.  Now, 90% of the time at least, he’s able to use the stump to climb up to the roost at night, and is now sleeping with his pen-mates.  His dismount from the roost isn’t always graceful, but it is significant progress.