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What's with the Wattles?

Many birds, like male turkeys, have wattles. What are wattles for?
© Colleen Prieto View Large

Birds like male turkeys or barnyard roosters have a wrinkly, bumpy flap of red skin called a wattle. But what are wattles for? Birds can’t sweat, so wattles help release excess heat. Wattles are also key to courtship displays. Many other birds, including some storks and plovers, also have wattles.

This April BirdNote listeners are going on a spring migration adventure in the Texas Hill Country — and you can join us! Trip details and more at

Full Transcript



What’s with the Wattles?

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.
Take a close look at a male Wild Turkey—if you dare.
[calling: and gobble: -- play throughout ] 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.
BirdNote listeners are taking a once in a lifetime journey to the Galapagos, and you can join us in July 2018! Trip details and more at
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
© 2018 Tune In to   February March 2018/2019   Narrator: Michael Stein
ID#   wattle-01-2018-02-21   wattle-01             

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