If you’re brand new to turkey hunting, or, would just like to learn more about the wild turkey in general, then this blog article and video is for you, as we’ll be taking a look at the differences between male and female birds and their distinguishing characteristics. For those who haven’t spent much time in the turkey woods or who just don’t know much about wild turkeys in general, it can be difficult at first to tell the male birds from the females. After all, the only experience that many folks have with turkeys is on Thanksgiving, where the turkey is the center of attention for hungry family members and friends. It’s also based on Thanksgiving decorations and décor that many people think of the turkey as a colorful bird that constantly gobbles and walks around all day in full strut, which of course, is not the case in reality.
There are several different subspecies of the wild turkey, which I’ll be exploring in another upcoming blog and video, and they do differ slightly in coloration. However, there are some common, distinguishing characteristics that apply to all. In many states throughout the country, it’s only legal to take a male bird during the spring hunting season, so it’s very important to be able to tell the difference between the two, which can sometimes be hard to do in low-light conditions, in thick brush, or in situations where the birds are just walking along and not strutting or making any vocalizations.
For starters, male turkeys are commonly referred to as “toms, gobblers, or long-beards” whereas the females are simply called “hens.” A juvenile male turkey is commonly called a “jake.” In general, the mature males are substantially larger than the females, however, jakes and mature hens can be similar in size. The male birds have a large, dark-colored chest, which on most species looks black, with a tuft of course hair protruding from the center, which is called a “beard.” While a jake will have a very short beard, and sometimes just stumble, a mature tom’s beard will be quite long, especially on the Eastern wild turkey. And sometimes toms will even develop multiple beards.
Hen’s are more brown or bronze colored and usually beardless. However, they do on rare occasions develop beards, which can be quite confusing to hunters. This is why in many states a bearded hen can be legally harvested. The tips of the breast feathers also differ slightly between male and female birds. For example, an Eastern female turkey will have lighter colored feather tips, while the toms will have black tips, which again contributes to their dark, black looking body
The head of a tom turkey is a combination of mainly red, white, and blue, which is one of the reasons it was almost chosen as the National Bird of the USA. A hen’s head is not as colorful and is mostly light blue or bluish-gray in appearance.
Finally, another distinguishing characteristic between male and female birds is that of spurs. Mature toms will have large, visible spurs protruding from the back of their legs above their feet. Jakes will much smaller spurs, and hens will have none. Vocalizations and body postures, such as gobbling and strutting, are some other ways to tell the males and females apart, but we’ll be looking at that topic in another upcoming blog and video, so stay tuned.
Of course, hunting regulations are different from state to state and again, the different subspecies of turkey can differ slightly in coloration, so be sure and thoroughly check things out with whatever state you intend to go hunting in before heading to the woods. Check out the video below to see more…