More Fascinating Facts About Wild Turkeys!

Turkeys of a Feather

Are you aware that young jakes have longer primary feathers in the center of their fan-shaped

Jakes Have Longer Tail Feathers in the Center of the Main Fan; All the Tail Feathers of a Mature Tom are the Same Length.


In fact that is a way to tell a mature tom from a young jake. Keep in mind that the only time you will see those longer tail feathers is when a jake struts!

Feather Colors

At a distance, hen feathers look dark brown while a tom’s appear black.

Each of the 5 subspecies of wild turkeys has unique characteristics.  For an in-depth explanation (with photos), refer to these earlier articles:

Head Colors

Perhaps the reason Ben Franklin wanted to name the turkey as the symbol of the US (instead of the bald eagle), is because a male gobbler’s head color is red, white and blue!

In contrast, a hen’s head color is a rather dull blue-gray.

Caruncle Considerations!

Also known as wattles, caruncles are the fleshy growths that hang from the turkey’s head and neck.  According to Wikipedia, “The wattle is often an ornament for courting potential mates. A large wattle is correlated with high testosterone levels, good nutrition ….” *

An adult gobbler’s caruncle will turn bright red when he is sexually excited. In contrast, a hen has a smaller wattle that is pink. An excited jake will have a wattle  that is more pink than red.

FYI for Hunters

In the latter days of the mating season, it may be easier for a hunter to take a tom.  He’s still interested in sex but there are fewer hens available for breeding.  

As more hens start nesting, gobblers may resort to more strident calling for females. Since he’s more stressed (looking for the few hens remaining to breed), he’s more likely to make a mistake — and move into the crosshairs of a hunter’s gun.


*  Wikipedia, from the page — “Wattle (anatomy)”


Thanks for stopping by; come again!


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Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 7:21 am  Comments Off on More Fascinating Facts About Wild Turkeys!  
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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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Talkin’ Turkey: The Rio Grande & Merriam’s Subspecies

Since the Eastern Wild Turkey’s habitat is the largest and they are the bird you are most likely to see, I’ll be comparing the 2 today to the Eastern.  Next time, I’ll spend time with tips for hunting the Eastern.

By explaining them in reverse order, this gives the reader an opportunity to scratch their head and say, “What was she thinking?”

Rio Grande Wild Turkeys

Rios are Turkeys for the Desert & Dry, Open Areas!

Looking at a bearded Rio from the side, or above, he looks almost like polished copper.  It’s great camouflage for hiding in his habitat — sun-soaked desert areas.

How can you find Rios?  They need food, water to drink and live oaks for roosting.

Where there are no live oaks, check out the cottonwoods, sycamores and hackberries.

Their strut zones can be anywhere in the open country where Rios live.  One distinctive thing about the Rios has to do with traveling.

After they leave their roost in the morning, they may travel a long distance before settling again.  If you recall, in Just How Much Land Do Turkeys Need, I made the point that turkeys are not migratory.

However, in the huge expanses of dry, arid land of Texas, Rios may need to travel larger distances to find sufficient food for the members of the group.

Merriam’s Wild Turkey

Merriam's are Distinctive: Tipped White Tail Feathers & More Black Feathers Instead of Brown

Often called Rocky Mountain turkeys because of their habitat, these gobblers prefer to roost in ponderosa pines (in canyons), near creek beds. On the eastern edge of their habitat, where there are no pines, the gobblers roost in hardwoods.

Unique Features of the Merriam’s Turkey

Merriam’s prefer acorns, but there are few oaks in their range.  If you see, however,  a small oak, known as the Gambel — Merriam’s turkeys will try to use these smallish tree for food and roosting.

Merriam’s hens also are drawn to Gambel oaks.  They use these trees for nesting areas and food.  Since the hens are in the oaks, toms will likely be there too.

Traveling in good-sized, mixed groups (hens, jakes, toms and jennys) is a pattern of the Merriam’s. Unlike the Eastern turkey, these Rocky Mountain turkeys tend to find a new roost each night.


Next Time: the Eastern Wild Turkey Subspecies


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Talkin’ Turkey: Which Turkeys Are Where?

The Next Few Articles

Today’s article will tell which subspecies of  gobblers are in each state.  Next, I’ll share info on each subspecies — including the differences between them.

After that, I’ll discuss some mating and roosting behaviors.  Finally, I’ll share what I know about shotguns and computing the density of your shot.

These Turkeys are Thinkin' 'bout Spring!

The Eastern Wild Turkey

If you remember the pictures of turkeys plastered on school room windows in the first grade, then you know what the eastern gobbler looks like.  This is the largest group of wild turkey in America.

States with ONLY the Eastern Variety:  *

  • Alabama,
  • Arkansas,
  • Connecticut,
  • Georgia,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Iowa,
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana,
  • Maine,
  • Maryland,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Michigan,
  • Minnesota,
  • Mississippi,
  • Missouri,
  • New Hampshire,
  • New Jersey,
  • New York,
  • North Carolina,
  • Ohio,
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Rhode Island,
  • South Carolina,
  • Tennessee,
  • Vermont,
  • Virginia,
  • West Virginia, and
  • Ontario, Canada

States with Eastern Plus Other Turkeys

Eastern & Osceola: Florida

Eastern & Rio Grande Turkeys: Kansas, Texas

Eastern, Rio Grande & Merriam’s Turkeys: Oklahoma

Rio Grande Gobblers

Rios are slightly smaller than the Eastern species, but have larger, thicker feet than the Easterners. The are fewer Rios than Eastern toms, but more than the Merriam’s or Osceola’s.

States with ONLY Rios (this is not a misprint!):  Hawaii

States w Rios & Merriam’s Turkey: California, Nebraska and Oregon

The Merriam’s Wild Turkey

These are often called the Rocky Mountain turkeys because, oddly enough, most live in states around the Rocky Mountains.

States With  ONLY Merriam’s:

  • Arizona,
  • Colorado,
  • Idaho,
  • Montana,
  • New Mexico,
  • North & South Dakota,
  • Utah,
  • Washington,
  • Wyoming

Next time, I’ll spend time on the Osceola and Gould’s Wild Turkey!

Turkey Hunting Season(s) by State

Here are the open turkey seasons by state.

Only Spring Turkey Season:

  • Georgia,
  • Idaho,
  • Louisiana,
  • Maine,
  • New Jersey,
  • North & South Carolina,
  • Ohio,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Utah
  • Ontario, Canada

According to the info I have, all remaining states offer turkey hunting in the spring AND the fall! **


* and ** The info I’ve shared here may have changed.  Biologists are trying to move wild turkeys into new areas all the time.  If you have new info about subspecies moving into your state, please let me know so I can correct this.

Likewise, states change hunting seasons for a variety of reasons.  If you have different info about turkey season in your state, please let me know:  marylouise at


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