White Turkey Legs and Curly Toenails What s with These Toms

White Turkey Legs and Curly Toenails What s with These Toms Outdoor Life

White Turkey Legs and Curly Toenails: What’s Up With These Longbeards?

Turkey season is in full swing, and some unusual birds are popping up on our newsfeeds. From leucistic toms to turkeys with multiple beards, these unique gobblers are catching hunters’ attention. We asked a turkey biologist to explain the unusual feet and legs of two separate turkeys: one with light legs and short spurs, and another with long, curly toenails.

Light Legs and Short Spurs

Is this turkey simply an old man falling apart? Or is there a different issue at play?

“It appears that there’s probably a pigment issue,” says Cody Cedotal, the wild turkey program manager for the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They’re lighter in color. Creatures often have variations in color, whether it’s melanistic phases or other anomalies.”

Turkeys can inherit albinism or leucism. Albinism results in a complete lack of pigment, causing the bird to have shockingly white feathers, white legs, and a white-pink head. Leucism, on the other hand, means the turkey has a partial loss of pigment, resulting in white feathers with a blue and red head, or partially white feathers. In this case, the turkey had normal feathers but unusually light-colored legs.

Despite having a long beard, this turkey’s spurs were less than an inch long, with one looking damaged. Cedotal explains that most variations in spurs are injury-related, whether from fights or accidentally kicking rocks. Spurs consist of a keratin sheath atop a bony structure, so either the sheath, the bone, or both could be damaged. This trauma can stunt the growth of spurs for the rest of a turkey’s life. However, even long, healthy spurs are not a reliable indicator of a turkey’s age.

White Turkey Legs and Curly Toenails What s with These Toms Outdoor Life

The Turkey with the Curly Toenails

An intriguing photo of turkey feet went viral when reposted by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Joe Harvey, a turkey hunter, took the photo (although his son, Guy, is actually the one pictured). They were in Chesterfield County, Virginia at the time.

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The bird’s legs are a normal color, and the spurs are long and healthy, but the toenails are quite abnormal. Five out of the six toenails are long and curly, while the middle right toenail is completely absent. Even the far-left toe, the most normal of them all, is a bit long.

Cedotal attributes this to the turkey’s toenails not growing in the usual direction.

“Animals, just like dogs, wear down their toenails through walking, moving, and scratching. But for some reason, this particular bird didn’t do that,” he says. “You can see how the toenails immediately curve upward. That’s probably why they haven’t worn down like those of a normal bird. Usually, the nails grow straight out and curl downwards, wearing off naturally. The middle toe without the toenail is also curled upward due to not wearing off properly and the turkey having to walk like that.”

While the impressive spurs might suggest that this tom is old, Cedotal reminds us that spur length isn’t a reliable indicator of age.

“Different birds grow spurs differently,” he says. “Sometimes what people would call a two-year-old turkey has a 3/4-inch spur. But other times, I’ve seen turkeys with sharp, pointy spurs that are longer than an inch. These turkeys, we would consider three or four years old, but banding data shows they’re actually eight or nine years old. As turkeys age, their spurs become much less reliable. I’ve seen adults with spurs as small as half an inch.”