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Strange Turkey Toe!

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Bob, I shot this gobbler in Stantonsburg, North Carolina. Have you ever seen toenails like this on a turkey?

Also, how old can turkeys get, and can you age this bird? - Thomas C.

Strange Turkey Toe!ANSWER: To answer your first question: No, I have never seen anything like this! A better question might be, what caused it?

A turkey's toenails, like a human's, grow continually. Because we wear socks and shoes, we have to trim ours.

Unless they are de-toed, domestic turkeys need their nails trimmed, too.

Because wild turkeys have to work for a living, their daily roamings are usually enough to keep their nails groomed.

Occasionally an injury occurs to one digit, and if it's twisted in such a way the nail cannot make contact with the ground, it would likely continue to grow.

That doesn't seem to be the case with your bird, because the nails of both middle toes are exceptionally long while the other toes appear to be normal. Furthermore, the other nails also appear a bit longer than normal.

My next suspicion would be environment. If for some reason the bird's feet were not exposed to nature's usual abrasive forces, perhaps because it didn't travel much or traveled only on soft ground, the nails might not have a chance to be worn down.

If that were the case, however, you'd see this malady in other wild birds in your area.

Strange Turkey Toe!Also, it could be the result of some type of disease, which causes exceptionally rapid nail growth, though I'm not aware of any such maladies, nor could I find any reference to them.

Another possibility, although remote, is this particular bird was at one time captive, but escaped or was released.

It looks in every way to be a wild bird and doesn't have the usually fat, stubby legs and toes of a domestic bird. However, it's possible someone held a wild bird captive for several years before setting it free. Beyond that, and unless you hunt near a nuclear power plant, I'm stumped!

As for determining age, I did some manipulations with your photo and estimated the spur length to be between 1 5/8" and 1 3/4", which would make it 5- or 6-years-old - very old for a wild bird.

Bear in mind whatever caused the abnormal nail growth could've affected the spurs as well.

Turkeys have the potential to live into their teens, but seldom do, and any bird much older than four is a rare bird indeed.

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