The Turkey's Snood

More Than Just a Flap of Skin

Wild Turkey Portrait With Snood

Russ/Flickr/CC by 2.0

A turkey's snood is similar to a wattle; in fact, it can be called a wattle when all of a turkey's face, head, and neck markings are described together. But the snood is a distinct feature. The base of the snood is just above the bill, and the total length can vary from just 1 to 2 inches to 5 to 6 inches or longer depending on the bird's gender, health, and mood. A short snood can stand upright and be pointed like a small horn, while a longer snood will dangle down the bird's bill and can flop on one side or the other.

What Is a Turkey's Snood?

A snood (pronunciation: rhymes with food) is a fleshy protuberance above a male turkey's bill that can, in some cases, hang down and cover the bill. It can vary dramatically in size, shape, and color. Snoods function in sexual selection: Female turkeys choose whom to mate with based on a variety of factors, including snood size.

About the Snood

The snood's color ranges from pale white, gray, or ice blue to a richer blue, pink, red, or purple. Stronger, bolder colors typically indicate heightened emotions, such as aggression or mating readiness. The snood can also have a few fine, dark hairs protruding from it.

Because the snood is fleshy and blood-filled, it can change length quickly. A short, compact snood can indicate an agitated bird, and turkey hunters have noted the snood shortening and withdrawing when a bird feels trapped or threatened. This might be a defensive response because a long, dangling snood can be a hazard in a fight. If the snood is injured, the bird might bleed profusely, and the snood could easily become infected through an open wound.

Because turkeys can be aggressive, farmers who raise turkeys might have their birds de-snooded as chicks, removing the protuberance and lessening the risk of injury or infection.

What a Snood Isn't

The snood can appear similar to several other facial structures, and understanding the differences between them can help birders better appreciate the variations in bird anatomy. Similar features that aren't snoods include:

  • Cere: This is a fleshy patch of skin covering the base of the bill and often covering the nares (nostrils). The cere might swell if it's infected. But it does not dramatically change color or size as the snood will, and it's more often completely flat or only slightly bulbous. The cere never dangles longer than the bird's bill.
  • Basal knob: This is an engorged, round structure at the base of the bill. But it is typically hard and does not change color or size as frequently as the snood, though it can change somewhat in breeding birds. It never, however, dangles over the bill and is not floppy or flexible.
  • Casque: This hard, horny structure can be either on the top of the bird's bill or on the top of the head. It does not change shape or size once it has fully grown, though some birds do have casques that vary during the breeding season. It is not largely flexible.
  • Rictal bristles: These are fine feathers or thin hairs at the base of the bill that are believed to help birds detect insects or protect the eyes and nares from debris or bacteria. Rictal bristles are not fleshy and do not change.

Identifying Birds by Snood

Only two birds have prominent snoods: the wild turkey and the ocellated turkey. The wild turkey has a much more developed snood, and some ocellated turkeys have such small snoods that they are not particularly noticeable. The snood is also not as variable or changeable on the ocellated turkey, though its length can change.

Because this structure is restricted to just these two species, it is not necessary to see the snood for proper species identification. Both species have far more dramatic field marks than this one facial feature. The snood can help with other types of identification, however. If seen clearly, the snood can identify:

  • Gender: Males typically have much larger, more prominent snoods, especially during the breeding season. Some hens can lack snoods entirely.
  • Sexual readiness: When males are ready to mate, the snood will be long and more brilliantly colored. It remains this way throughout their courtship displays.
  • Health: A long, prominent snood often indicates a strong, healthy bird, particularly during the mating season. Studies of snoods have detected better bacterial resistance in turkeys with longer snoods.
  • Emotions: A frightened turkey can have a paler, retracted snood, while an aggressive, angry bird will have a short but boldly colored snood. When relaxed and stress-free, the snood is generally shorter but still somewhat colorful.