What Are Wattles For?

That flap of bumpy red skin hanging off a male turkey's face is both functional and fashionable.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


Take a close look at a male Wild Turkey—if you dare.

This turkey is a hefty four feet of bird, tail tip to beak. Its handsome dark and densely feathered body is topped by a bare neck. And there, dangling from the chin, is a wrinkly mass of bumpy, warty-looking red skin: the wattle.

Why have a wattle? Wattles are an adaptive feature that come in handy in several ways. On a hot day, with the sun bearing down, the bare skin of neck and wattle helps release excess heat. Birds don’t sweat—they can’t sweat—so the turkey is otherwise trapped in its dense, dark feathers.

Wattles have other roles to play. When the male turkey gets to courting the hens, the wattle takes center stage. Extra blood rushes in, and the wattle glows bright scarlet for maximum visual impact.

If a predator appears, sparking a moment of fear, the blood may retract from the wattle, turning it blue.

Many birds have wattles, including some storks, plovers, pheasants, bellbirds, cassowaries, and, of course, the rooster in the barnyard.

Are they pretty? In the right bird’s eye, no doubt.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.



Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by David McQuaid and James Holmes.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Narrator: Michael Stein

© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org   February March 2018/2019