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Intro to Wild Turkey


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Introduction to the Wild Turkey - Meleagris Gallopavo

Physical Characteristics

The wild turkey has longer legs and neck, a more slender body, smaller head, and darker plumage than does the domestic turkey. Tips of wild turkey tail feathers are light brown, while those of the domestic turkey are white.

Male wild turkeys (gobblers) differ from females (hens) by having longer legs and neck, a larger foot, and larger bodies. Males have a bronzy, iridescent body plumage with black-tipped breast feathers, and hens have light-brown breast feather tips. The gobbler typically has a tuft of modified feathers called a "beard" protruding from its breast, along with an upwardly curving spur on the lower legs (see photo at right). Occasionally the beard or spurs do not develop on a gobbler. A few hens will also develop beards although they are typically much thinner and shorter than gobbler beards.

The head and neck of the adult gobbler are typically whiter than a hen's, due to less head feathering. During the spring mating season, the head of the sexually aroused adult gobbler takes on a combination of red, white, and blue colors in varying degrees.

Several color phases of the wild turkey are recognized. The red phase occurs mainly in southern Mississippi and can be described as a rusty, reddish color on the tail, wings, or most body feathers. The smoky-gray phase occurs throughout Mississippi and is mistakenly thought to be a partial domestic turkey. Smokey-gray turkeys, usually hens, are whitish grayish in color on parts or most of the body. They are not part domestic and do successfully reproduce. Another color phase seen infrequently is the black (melanistic) phase. These turkeys have no other colors, just black. The true albino, with a total absence of any color, is rare.

The sex of a wild turkey or a flock can be determined by sign. Gobblers have a large track with a middle toe at least 4 inches in length; a hen has a middle toe less than 3 inches long. Hen droppings are spiral shaped, but gobblers typically leave an elongated J-shaped dropping. In the spring, juvenile turkeys can be distinguished from adults by an uneven tail contour, an unbarred (white bars) tip on the tenth primary wing feather, and short, greater upper-secondary coverts. Jakes, or yearling gobblers, normally weigh 9 to 13 pounds and have short, rounded spurs and a beard less than 5 inches long. Older toms generally weigh between 16 and 21 pounds and have spurs longer than half an inch and a beard more than 7 inches long. First-year hens (jenny) typically weigh 5 to 7 pounds; adult hens average 9 pounds.


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