Proper identification of the sex of a turkey before the shot is taken is a legal requirement during the spring turkey season, when only males and bearded females may be harvested.Correct reporting of the age and sex of turkeys by hunters after the kill is valuable in managing wild turkeys. Each fall and spring, Game and Parks staff survey a portion of turkey hunters and ask them questions about the hunt. The reported age and sex information is used in making turkey management decisions for the following year.The head and neck of male birds are scantily feathered compared to the female, and a hen lacks the distinctive fleshy folds of skin that mark the male. Bumps called caruncles, the snood (a protuberance hanging over the beak) and the dewlap (protuberance hanging from the neck) take on either a brilliant, deep red color or a pale blue color during the gobbler’s breeding display. A bristle or filament beard extends from the midline of the gobbler’s upper breast. A few hens also have beards, usually thinner and shorter than male beards, so the presence or absence of a beard is not a reliable indication of a bird’s sex.The breast feathers of a hen are fringed in white or buff, making hens appear frosted or light gray. Juvenile birds of both sexes have small “button” spurs. The males’ spurs continue to grow, becoming pointed, curved and sharp.The following pictures can be used to help you in determining the age and sex of your turkey.Central tail feathersBecause of the sequence of feather replacement, the middle feathers of a juvenile bird’s tail are longer than the other tail feathers. Adults’ tail feathers are of equal length.
SpursJakes, or first-year males, have short, rounded spurs usually less than half an inch long. As birds age, spurs grow longer and become more pointed and polished. Adults commonly have spurs at least 1/2 inch to over 1 inch long.
Wing tips of 9th and 10th primariesJuveniles have sharply pointed and gray wing tips with little wear. Adults have distinctly barred tips. Wing tips on males are often heavily worn.
Breast Feathers The breast feathers of a hen are fringed in white or buff, making the bird appear frosted or lighter colored. Male breast feathers are fringed in black, making them appear darker than the female.
Male turkeys and some females (about five percent) have beards. Growth rate is normally 4-5 inches per year, so it is common for juvenile males to have beards less than 6 inches long and for age two and older males to have beards greater than 6 inches in length. Normal wear and tear causes beards to wear and break so beard length varies considerably in older birds and may be less than 6 inches on occasion.