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Planet Earth

That's Some Snood

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During the breeding season, male wild turkeys gobble, strut, and preen their iridescent feathers, all to attract the attention of eligible mates. But apparently the single most attractive feature to females is not a male’s power suit or macho strut but his snood--a fleshy appendage above his beak (an arrow points to it here) that can stretch to twice its ordinary length during courtship. And not only do females prefer long snoods, but, according to Northeast Louisiana University behavioral ecologist Richard Buchholz, males assess the snood lengths of other males before engaging in battle. Buchholz placed two male turkey decoys three feet apart in a small arena, each with a pile of birdseed in front of it. The decoys were identical in every respect--except that one’s snood was twice as long as the other’s. Buchholz then put 28 young male turkeys, one at a time, into the arena. Of the 21 duped by the models, 17 risked taking food only from the model with the small snood. Just 4 fed from the better- endowed decoy’s pile of seed. What’s more, in fights between live males, Buchholz found that only snood length--which may in part be determined by a bird’s testosterone level--was a good predictor of victory, more reliable even than weight.

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