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Q: Enclosed is a photo of a wild turkey who is a frequent visitor to our backyard. I thought it was a young gobbler, but a friend says it's a bearded hen. I thought I'd consult your wildlife experts. If it's a hen, are bearded ones common? Would it be legal to shoot such a bird during turkey season? Surely it would be hard for a hunter to tell it was a hen. I do note that this one travels with hens, while gobblers are in a separate group.

John H. Northrup


A: What a great photo; thanks very much for sending it. It is indeed a bearded hen. The figure varies among local populations of turkeys, but in general 5-10% of hens have beards. A hen's beard tends to be thinner than that of a jake or a tom and usually has a kink (that's a great view of a kinked beard in your photo). You can also identify a hen by the drab-colored head, lack of spurs on the legs, and relatively smaller size, although that can be tough to do without a gobbler around for reference. Hens also have buff-tipped (light to chocolate brown) breast feathers, while males have black-tipped breast feathers.


In the spring it may be difficult to tell a bearded hen apart from a male. For this reason, the hunting regulations allow for the harvest of a bearded bird during the spring (as opposed to males only). This way, hunters won't be in violation of the law if they take a bearded hen they thought was a gobbler. Very few bearded hens are harvested in the spring, so the impact to the population is negligible.

--Mike Schiavone, DEC Turkey Project Leader/Wildlife biologist

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Author:Schiavone, Mike
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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