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Ever Wonder about the Pope’s Nose?

I'm not talking about the actual Pope's actual nose. I'm talking about the tail end of a bird, like a chicken or turkey. Whenever we have chicken or turkey, my wife claims it, insisting it is the best part. I didn’t even realize this was thing until I met her, so I have no particular affinity for it, but I wondered why it was called the pope's nose and what it does for a chicken.


I couldn't find a good explanation for the origin of the pope's nose, but I came across an amusing anecdote from England. Supposedly a carpenter, unhappy with the tardy payment for his work at St. Mary’s Church in Nantwich, around the year 1400, carved a bird with a rump featuring the big nose of the delinquent vicar within the decorations. This sounds more like an explanation of parson’s nose, which may or may not have arisen after the Reformation, though that would be after this story was supposed to have taken place. Perhaps not surprisingly, the website of said church did not mention this story, though they do have an old and beautiful building. 


The scientific term for the pope's nose is the uropygium. This is the part that holds the tail feathers. It also includes the uropygial gland, also known as the preen gland or oil gland. Some sites equate the pope's nose with the pygostyle, but that is the term for the underlying skeleton, like our tailbone, which consists of fused vertebrae. Apparently, it has a different shape in diving birds and that difference is related to how they use the tail as a rudder. 


You may have birds preening and scratching their butts with their bills. They may have been accessing the uropygial gland, a small nipple-like structure under the feathers. It is not obvious unless you’re looking at a dressed bird on your dinner table. It produces an oil that keeps feathers in good condition, among other things. For some birds, it may be a precursor of Vitamin D that then gets absorbed through the skin. In water birds, like ducks and geese, it helps make their feathers waterproof. I don't know if the pope's nose tastes different in them, but some recipes that suggest cutting off the uropygium because of bitterness might have come from those birds. In female chickens, the gland produces a "fowl" smell, which is attractive to mates. Funny that the pope's nose would have a function related to smell and sex. What I found surprising was that the oil also seems to enhance the abundance of feather mites. These tiny spider relatives feed on microbes that would otherwise harm the eggs of the bird. So the broad correlation was bigger uropygial gland, healthier eggs. On the other hand, some birds, like the Araucana chicken breed, are "rumpless" and do not have a uropygium. Nonetheless, the pope's nose has a lot going on in there; it's nothing to sneeze at.

Given a plate of chicken parts, would you pick the pope's nose?