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Male vs Female Turkeys: How to Tell the Difference
Whether found down on the farm or deep in the forest, turkeys, both wild and domestic, are well-known members of the bird family. So well-known, in fact, that turkeys nearly became the national symbol of America rather than the bald eagle. But have you ever wondered how to tell the difference between male and female turkeys?
In some birds, the differences between males and females are quite obvious. Others might take a DNA test to know for sure. Turkeys fall somewhere in between. Domestic turkeys tend to be a bit harder to sex than wild ones, especially when they are young. Keep reading to learn about the differences between male and female turkeys!
Wild Turkeys: Male vs Female
Hunting wild turkeys is a popular pastime in many parts of the country. However, in most places, it’s not legal to hunt female turkeys, known as hens. For this reason, it’s important to know how to tell the difference between hens and male turkeys, also called toms.
Male Wild Turkeys (Toms)
As adults, male wild turkeys are quite a bit larger than adult hens. They have darker feathers, especially on their chest, with a bright metallic shine. Tom turkeys also have a long beard from the center of their chest that can grow as long as 10 inches. Their heads are a mix of red, white, and blue coloring. Male turkeys also grow large, sharp spurs on the back of their legs, just above their feet.
Male wild turkeys can often be seen strutting and puffing up their feathers, in a show of power. They also make the classic “gobble, gobble” noise that we associate with turkeys.
Female Wild Turkeys (Hens)
Adult wild turkey hens are visibly smaller than adult toms. Their feathers are a lighter color, brown or bronze in appearance. They have no spurs and seldom have beards, although there are rare exceptions. Female wild turkeys have blue or blue-gray-colored heads with no red.
Unlike male wild turkeys, females rarely strut or fluff up their feathers. They yelp and cluck rather than gobble.
Domestic Turkeys: Male vs Female
The many different breeds of domestic turkey were all developed from wild turkeys. Domestic turkeys are generally raised for meat, as breeders, or kept as pets. Unlike wild turkeys, male and female domestic turkeys generally have very similar coloring, especially when they are babies.
Male Domestic Turkeys
Like wild turkeys, male domestic turkeys are significantly larger than females. This size difference begins to be obvious even when the baby turkeys are only a few weeks old. Male turkeys also start to develop a snood, a flap of skin that hangs over their beak, earlier than females. Their snoods are generally longer even as adults.
Male turkeys have larger wattles, the flap of skin under their beak, than females. They also have more caruncles, bumps or growths, on their heads and necks. Both the wattles and caruncles of male turkeys turn bright red when they are strutting and showing off for females. Like wild turkeys, male domestic turkeys grow beards and spurs.
Male domestic turkeys strut and fan their feathers starting at an early age.
- Related Read: What Do Turkeys Eat in the Wild and as Pets?
Female Domestic Turkeys
Hen turkeys eat much less and are smaller than their male counterparts. Their snood, wattle, and caruncles are smaller as well. Unlike the males, who usually have bare heads, females typically have some small feathers on their heads. Hens also have slimmer heads than males.
A few female turkeys do grow beards but they’re usually a lot shorter than the males. If they grow spurs, these also will be smaller and less visible than those of tom turkeys.
Female domestic turkeys will display strutting and feather fanning behaviors. Generally, this happens among a group of hens trying to establish dominance. Sometimes, female turkeys will also show off for the males.
Why You Need To Know Whether a Turkey Is a Tom or a Hen
As we discussed, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between male and female wild turkeys because of hunting rules and regulations. But why might you need to know whether your domestic turkeys are toms or hens?
If you have a turkey breeding farm, obviously you’ll need to have both toms and hens so it’s important that you can tell the difference. Both male and female turkeys can be successfully raised for meat although of course, females will be smaller birds. Some people think female turkeys taste better than males despite their size.
- You May Also Like: Male or Female Lovebird? How to Identify the Differences
With knowledge and experience, telling the difference between male and female turkeys can be simple. At a minimum, remember that males are always much larger, a fact that should help you tell which is which even from a distance. Whether you raise turkeys on a farm or hunt them in the wild, knowing the differences between toms and hens is critical for your success. Without that knowledge, you may find yourself facing a fine for taking aim at the wrong bird or wondering why you can’t seem to hatch any new baby turkeys!
Featured Image Credit: Jim Cumming, Shuttertstock, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.