It’s the time of the year when certain ugly natives of America strut what they consider to be their male magnificence. We’re not talking about political candidates, by the way. We have in mind the Wild Turkey Toms that are roaming our woods and fields trying to herd harems of hens or fighting other Toms for the right to do so. The hens also are ugly, but not to the Toms, which puff and strut in the females’ periphery, eagerly awaiting the telltale flutter that signals a hen’s readiness for him to do what he has to do for the survival of the species and his own blood pressure.
Which brings us to the ugly, but necessary, subjects of snoods, wattles, caruncles, and breast beards. Research has indicated that Wild Turkey hens are influenced to volunteer for harem duty by the size of a Tom’s snood. The snood is a fleshy bump above the beak when the Tom is not showing off; when he gets into a romantic mood and starts to strut, the snood gets engorged and lengthens into a red organ that droops down over the beak.
The snood is just one part of the fleshy display of a strutting Tom that only a female Wild Turkey would consider handsome. He has wattles on his neck and throat and these are covered by blood-sensitive bumps (caruncles), which also get engorged into a wrinkled red mass. At the base of the neck are two “major caruncles” that inflame into red, testicle-like objects. The face and forehead of the Tom in spring is an eerie blue; a large ear hole punctures the side of his face. On top, he sports a gray or white head crown.
The truly magnificent aspect of the display of a strutting Tom has to do with his feathers, many of which are iridescent. Depending on the light, these can gleam bronze, black, green, gray, and white. When strutting, the Tom puffs out his breast feathers into two enormous mounds; centered between those breasts is one or more “beards” – specialized feathers that hang down like a Scottish sporran.
The Wild Turkey Strut begins with the Tom puffing himself out to almost twice his size, making a big bird bigger. (Toms can be almost four feet long and usually weigh up to 24 pounds, although there have been some found weighing well over 30 pounds.)
While puffing out his chest, the strutting Tom flares his tail feathers (rectors and coverts) into a large fan, raises his back and body feathers, opens his wings slightly, and drags his primary wing feathers on the ground as he steps slowly. It's not unusual to see contests with two to five Toms strutting their stuff in the neighborhood of one or more hens, which often pay no attention.
Once impregnated, the hens scratch out a nest on the ground in protected parts of the woods and incubate their eggs, which often produce poults before the end of April.
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Barbara and Dick