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How to Tell the Difference Between Male & Female Turkeys

Updated February 21, 2017

With only six different species of wild turkey, sex identification of this bird is relatively easy, especially later in the year when the male turkeys have fully developed. Telling the difference between male and female turkeys is important to turkey hunters, who must follow hunting regulations regarding which sex can be harvested during turkey hunting season.

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  1. View the turkeys from a distance with a pair of binoculars or a scope. If possible, take zoomed-in pictures of the turkeys with a camera.

  2. Look first at the head of the turkey. You will notice that the turkeys' heads are mostly featherless. The colours of the heads will help you to identify the sex of each turkey. Female, or hens, will have greyish blue heads while the male, or gobbler, has a more brightly coloured head, often with a lot of red. This makes the males more noticeable, while the females have a few feathers on their neck and heads for camouflage. Additionally, gobbler's heads will change colours during breeding season, changing as often as every few seconds from blue to white to red.

  3. Continue to view the heads of the turkeys. You will notice a fleshy growth above the bill, called a snood. Though both hens and gobblers have snoods that grow and retract to attract mates, the snood on male turkeys is much longer than on females.

  4. View the chest of each turkey. Mature male turkeys will have a beard. The beard is a hairlike cluster of feathers protruding from the middle of the turkey's chest. Young male turkeys known as jakes will not have beards, and some female turkeys will grow beards, though it is rare.

  5. Observe the legs of each turkey. A very noticeable difference between the two sexes is the presence of spurs on the legs. The females do not have spurs, while the males have the spurs and use them for both establishing dominance and defence.

  6. Identify male turkeys easily during breeding season. During mating season, the male turkeys will fan out their tail feathers to display for the female turkeys. Additionally, the turkey will fluff up his upper body to appear larger.

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Things You'll Need

  • Binoculars or scope
  • Camera with zoom

About the Author

Stephanie Daniels is a freelance writer residing in Louisa, Kentucky. Daniels focuses on parenting, children, gardening and home-decor articles. She was the manager of Home Decor for Home Depot for 4 years. Daniels has written for many online publications and enjoys ghostwriting.

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