What Is the Red Thing on a Turkey’s Neck?

The red thing on a turkeys neck

Ever wondered what’s the red thing on a turkey’s neck? It’s called a wattle. This distinctive feature, commonly seen in both wild and domesticated turkeys, has intrigued many bird enthusiasts. 

If you’re interested in this fascinating turkey characteristic, check out the rest of this article. Here, you’ll discover its function and the variations it presents across different turkey breeds!

The Red Thing on a Turkey: What Is It Called?

Turkeys head with a red thing called wattle

The red, fleshy part found on a turkey’s neck is known as the wattle. It’s a distinct and noticeable feature, particularly in male turkeys. It is primarily used to regulate their body temperature and communicate with other turkeys.

While turkeys across various regions possess wattles, the size and color can differ. These variations are influenced by factors such as age, breed, and overall health. 

Furthermore, the wattle’s appearance can provide insights into a turkey’s well-being, making it an interesting aspect to observe.

Fun Fact: According to ScienceNews, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, used the turkey’s wattle as a model to create a color-changing biosensor. 

This biosensor can detect explosives like TNT! It works by mimicking the wattle’s ability to change colors – from red to white or even blue – when the turkey gets excited. 

What Is a “Turkey Wattle”?

Close up of a male domestic turkey wattle

A turkey wattle is a loose, skin-like flap that hangs from the turkey’s neck. It’s most commonly seen in males and stands out due to its bright red color. 

Turkey wattles vary significantly among different turkeys. Some are long and prominent, while others are shorter and less noticeable. 

Younger turkeys tend to have smaller and less pronounced wattles, which grow and become more prominent as they age.

Furthermore, turkey wattles can come in different shades. Their colors can range from a bright, vivid red to a more subdued tone. 

This coloration reflects the turkey’s health status, with vibrant and well-maintained wattles usually indicating a healthy bird.

During certain times of the year, especially in the breeding season, the wattle also becomes more pronounced in male turkeys. This is part of their display to attract females. 

The wattle’s enhanced size and color during this period are unmistakable and add to the turkey’s overall display of plumage and behavior.

Watch this fun video showcasing turkey wattles for better visualization:

What's that red thing on a turkey?

Variations Among Turkey Species

Turkey species show a variety of differences in their wattles in size, color, and shape. This varying appearance can be a clue to identify different turkey species.

Wild turkeys generally have more pronounced wattles compared to domestic breeds. Meanwhile, in wild species, the wattle is often larger and more colorful, especially in males. This difference is likely due to the natural selection processes in their habitats.

In contrast, domestic turkeys, bred for farming, usually have smaller wattles. Breeding practices have focused more on the turkey’s size and meat quality rather than wattle development. As a result, the wattle is less prominent in these breeds.

Interestingly, some rare turkey breeds exhibit unique wattle characteristics. For instance, certain heritage breeds may have wattles of unusual shapes or colors. 

These distinctive features often make them a favorite among poultry enthusiasts and conservationists.

Here is a table listing different turkey breeds and the variations in their wattles:

Turkey BreedWattle Characteristics
Eastern Wild TurkeyLarge, vivid red wattle, prominent in males
Bourbon RedSmaller, brightly colored wattle
Broad Breasted WhiteSmaller, less prominent wattle due to selective breeding for meat
Royal PalmOrnate wattle, complementing attractive plumage

The table above highlights the diversity in wattle characteristics across different turkey breeds, reflecting both natural variations and the influence of selective breeding.

What Are Turkey Wattles For?

Beautiful wild male turkey

Turkey wattles, while visually striking, are more than just ornamental. These fleshy protrusions are not merely for show; they have specific roles in a turkey’s life.

Temperature Regulation

Turkeys use their wattles to help regulate body temperature. The wattle’s blood vessels can expand or contract, allowing heat to be released or conserved. This is crucial for turkeys living in varying climates.

Mating and Social Interactions

During mating season, a turkey’s wattle becomes more vibrant. This is part of their mating display, helping to attract potential mates. 

Wattles also play a role in social dynamics, contributing to interactions among turkeys.

Indicators of Health and Emotions

The appearance of a wattle can indicate a turkey’s health and emotional state. A bright, full wattle usually signifies a healthy and alert bird. On the other hand, changes in the wattle’s appearance might signal stress or illness.

From my own experience volunteering on a farm during my summer holidays, I learned firsthand about the significance of a turkey’s wattle in indicating its health. 

One of the turkeys, whom we affectionately named ‘Gobbler,’ had a wattle that was unusually pale and slightly shriveled. This prompted us to consult with a veterinarian, who diagnosed Gobbler with a respiratory infection. 

After a course of treatment, Gobbler’s wattle returned to its normal, vibrant state. It was able to rejoin its group and even fly short distances as if nothing happened.

Do Both Male and Female Turkeys Have a Wattle?

Male and female turkeys with a wattle

Both male and female turkeys have wattles, but there are notable differences. 

Male turkeys, known as toms, typically have larger and more colorful wattles. These are especially prominent during mating season, as we discussed a few sections back.

The wattle’s size and color in males play a key role in their mating displays, making them more attractive to females.

Female turkeys, also called hens, have wattles as well, but they are usually smaller and less vibrant. 

The subtler wattle in females is less conspicuous, which aligns with their generally more muted overall appearance compared to males.

In a rafter of male and female turkeys, the wattle serves similar purposes, such as temperature regulation and communication. 

However, the extent to which these functions are visible or utilized can vary between the genders, reflecting their different roles and behaviors in turkey society.

Did this article answer your questions about the red thing on a turkey’s neck? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or ask us anything about this unique turkey feature!

Leave a Comment

You may also like