A distinguishing feature of both domesticated and wild turkeys is the black fibrous hairs that hang down from the chest away from the body plumage. Biologists and hunters call those hairs beards. A turkey's beard can be long enough to touch the ground. Beards grow on all male turkeys or gobblers and grow on some hens.
Most turkey hens do not have beards. About 10 percent to 20 percent do have them, but they are much smaller than gobbler's. Less than 10 percent of hens have a single small spur. Bearded hens can reproduce and raise offspring.
Turkey beards grow from the chest of gobblers. Not hair, like mammal beards, the gobbler's beard is made of modified feathers or tufts of filaments. It's not clear Turkey beards' purpose is not clear, but they may help differentiate birds or may be a sign of virility to attract females. Beards and spurs on turkeys differentiate males from females.
Turkey beards usually grow to 9 inches long, although according to the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the longest beard ever recorded was 18 inches. Their beards grow 3 to 5 inches a year. Turkeys can have multiple beards. Two beards are common, but some hunters have reported turkeys with eight beards according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Domesticated turkeys, descended from Meleagris gallopavo, wild turkeys, come from Central America, it appears, The Aztecs domesticated the animal around 500 B.C. The Spanish Conquistadors imported these birds into Europe; eventually their domesticated descendants made it to England and back to America. These species all have beards, and therefore females can have beards as well.
- National Wild Turkey Foundation: Wild Turkey Facts
- Radford.edu: Wild Turkey
- Pennsylvania Game Commisison: Wild Turkey FAQs
- Norcross Wildlife Foundation: Wild Turkeys
- National Wild Turkey Foundation: What Does a Wild Turkey Look Like?
- University of Minnesota: Talking Turkey
- Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game: Frequently Asked Questions about the Wild Turkey