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Blackhead Turkey Symptoms

Blackhead disease, or histomoniasis, is a major risk for domestic turkey production and in wild turkeys. It attacks the digestive track and livers of birds three to 18 weeks of age, and the government of Alberta, Canada states that blackhead can result in 100 percent mortality in a turkey flock, causing economic damage to the flock owner. Chickens and earthworms are both carriers of blackhead, and prevention is best achieved through good sanitation and the use of drugs for disease control.


According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, early signs of blackhead in turkeys include anti-social behavior in the birds, including lethargy. Their heads might draw inward to the body or be tilted downward toward the chest. The turkey's feathers will remain ruffled and the wings will droop. The National Wild Turkey Federation notes that the turkey's eyes might be closed or partly closed and the bird may react if you disturb it, but will quickly become passive again. Blackhead is an old name for the disease, and while the comb of some infected turkeys will turn black, blackening of the comb is not a reliable symptom.

Bodily Functions

Infected turkeys will stop eating and scratching, becoming emaciated and weak over time. Diarrhea will occur as the disease progresses and the vent feathers will become soiled, according to the Queensland Government Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. As blackhead impacts a turkey's liver, its fecal matter will turn a sulfur yellow color and may appear frothy.


After death, turkeys can be examined internally to verify blackhead infection. Two areas of the bird will be affected, including the ceca, which are two pouches located at the lower end of the small intestine, and the liver. One symptom of blackhead disease includes enlargement of the ceca, which become filled with a creamy cheesy material that ranges in color from whitish green to brown. This material may be streaked with blood and might also have a foul odor. The liver will display areas of dead and dying tissue that look like half-inch yellow-colored rings. Smaller rings will be swollen. As the disease progresses and the rings grow, they may appear sunken and be circled by several rings.

Examination of ceca and liver tissue under a microscope will reveal the presence of the parasite Histomonas meleagridis, which causes blackhead disease.

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