Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallipavo

Wild Turkey, displaying male, 3/26/09, Ed Levin Park
An adult male turkey ("tom" or "gobbler") in breeding plumage and full display. The tail is fully erected, and the tail feathers are of equal length. (In a yearling male, the central tail feathers are longer, as shown in the last image on this page.) As befits a mature male, the bird has an impressive "beard" or mane of hairlike feathers descending from mid-chest; all males and a few females ("hens") have beards. The beards of yearling males ("jakes") are generally shorter, though an adult's beard may also be short as a result of wear or damage; see the fourth image down. This bird is showing an impressive snood (the fleshy protuberance that hangs over the bill); the snood elongates and can turn bright red when the bird is courting or aggressive. Females also have snoods, less variable in length and color.

The tom's body feathers are black with orange, blue and green iridescent highlights; females have medium to light dull brown feathers, without iridescence. The featherless head is red, white and blue, as befits this all-American bird. It is generally dull blue and pink outside of breeding season for males and all year for females; in breeding season, the male's face turns bright blue, and the wattles and coruncles (the sacs hanging below the wattles) can range from white through pale pink to bright scarlet by virtue of hormonally controlled blood flow.

The barred primary wing feathers hang down and drag on the ground when the male displays, further increasing his apparent size. Barely visible on the back of this bird's right leg is the fleshy spur, a display and fighting feature of male fowl such as roosters and tom turkeys. Like the beard, the spur grows longer over the first few years of life, but a mature bird's spur can be short as a result of wear or injury. Females lack readily visible spurs.

Wild Turkey, displaying male, 3/24/09, Ed Levin Park
This appears to be the same male turkey as shown in the top image photographed from a different angle two days earlier. Note the spur visible on the bird's right leg.

Wild Turkey, male displaying, 3/18/10, Rancho San Antonio
A male turkey strutting (walking while displaying); note the variety of iridiscent feathers on show. This bird's snood is retracted.

Wild Turkeys
I had never seen two displaying male Wild Turkeys presenting a united front like this. They were approaching a mixed flock of males and females from some distance away, while three of the males in the flock also showed full display. These birds appear to have been combining their forces in an effort to break into the flock and compete for a chance to mate with its females; they weren't successful while I watched. The wattles and coruncles are bright red, indicating the birds are at maximum arousal.

Wild Turkey, male breeding plumage, 3/26/09, Ed Levin Park
A male in full breeding plumage, but not full display -- he is walking without his tail feathers erected or his flight feathers dragging on the ground. The beard is only a stub, but the spur is full-sized; this is a mature bird whose beard has been broken off, perhaps in a fight.

Wild Turkey, male breeding plumage, 5/18/08, Rancho San Antonio
Another mature male in breeding season walking in non-display mode, with feathers settled and snood retracted. The bird shows a full-sized spur and an impressive beard. (Turkey hunters use the length of the beard as a measure of the trophy value of male turkeys.)

Wild Turkey, female, 3/26/09, Ed Levin Park
A female turkey; note the dull brown plumage, with little iridescence compared to the male. The bird also shows light pink wattles, dull blue facial skin, and a retracted snood, but males may have these features as well. Females incubate the eggs, and apparently their plumage has evolved to be an effective camouflage while they sit on the nest, while the male's spectacular equipment results from sexual selection.

Wild Turkey, male non-breeding plumage, 7/21/10, Ed Levin Park
This bird shows pale pink wattles, a dull blue-gray face, a retracted snood, and the angle of the photo leaves it unclear whether there is a beard, all consistent with its being a female. But the extensively black variegated plumage and the full-sized spur indicate that this is a male in non-breeding plumage. Turkeys usually travel in flocks, and males are noticeably larger than females, so size is another indicator of sex in the field.

Wild Turkey, yearling male, 6/13/04, Ed Levin Park
The dark hue and iridescence of the body feathers mark this turkey as a male, and the fact that the central tail feathers are longer than the outside ones indicate that it is a yearling bird.