Talkin’ Turkey: The Eastern Subspecies

The Eastern Wild Turkey

Photographs Cannot Capture the Beauty of These Birds!

Earlier, I mentioned that the Eastern looks like the turkey we saw on the walls of our first-grade classroom.  There is no way to describe the beauty of this bird.

From a distance, a tom appears black.  Hens seem to have lots of  bronze in their feathers.  However, when you see these turkeys up close, they have a kaleidoscope of colors:  blue, green, brown, bronze and black.

The Eastern is the most widely dispersed turkey in America.  He spends much of the year in a pine or hemlock tree, close to the top of a rise or a ridge.  As the weather heats up and breeding begins, the toms move from pines into hardwoods.

They particularly like to roost in trees close to (or bordering) open fields.  This is critical; they must have a clearing for their strut zone.

In the early part of the breeding season, they may not use the strut zone at all.  However, when the number of hens gets sparse, toms may jump from their roost straight to the strut zone.

The Eastern toms tend to stay in the same area for breeding as they claimed for their territory.  However,  hunting pressure may cause the turkeys to suddenly move to a totally new area!

Today, I want to mention 2 particular traits that hunters value:  the beard and the spurs.

Note the Beard Growing from the Chest!

The Beard

Toms start to grow beards at about 1 year of age.  However, the beard is not on his face, but half way down his chest.

Some males have 2 beards, while a few females have a beard!  This beard continues to grow to between 10 and  12 inches.  Snow and rough terrain wear down the beard.  The beard does not shed like feathers — it continues to grow.

FYI: Some areas have changed their hunting regulations to read “bearded birds only” instead of “male birds only.”

Spurs on Turkeys

Some hunters are more interested in the length of the spurs on toms than their weight.  It’s another way to gauge age of the bird.

Eastern yearling jakes have a 1/4 inch node on the back side of their legs.  By the time a tom reaches 3 or 4 years, his spurs can be 1 and 1/2 inch in length.

These sharp claws are used for fighting … or gouging a careless hunter!


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Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 11:42 am  Comments (1)  
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