Bearded Ladies

Twobeardedladiesstevehi They breed and lay eggs just like the hens without beards.

In “bearded bird” spring turkey states, they’re legal. Often that lawbook rule is established in the event a hunter sees a bearded turkey, and pulls the trigger. Whether you shoot one is still your choice in the end.

Biology tells us that some girl turkeys do wear beards—under 10% of the population some biologists will generally tell you. Some will specifically suggest it’s as low as 2 to 4 percent. If present, those beards are usually no longer than eight inches, and often thin.

Of course, sex can be determined by characteristics other than the presence of a beard. Gobblers wear black-tipped breast feathers; hens are brown-tipped. Male turkeys have pink and red faces, and when aroused, red, white and blue heads. Female turkeys have blue-gray heads, occasionally with some red splotches. Spurs: males. Gobbles: males. You get the idea . . .

Like the rest of you Strut Zoners, I’ve been watching wild turkeys all winter. For some of you in Florida, Alabama, and elsewhere, the spring season begins in March. For the rest of us, we’re still watching flocked-up birds moving on snow.

One southern Maine flock I’ve been keeping my eye on lately (pictured here—a photo I snapped Feb. 23), contains 15 turkeys—all hens. Two, as you can see here, have pretty good-sized beards. There’s a jake flock that hangs around not far from them, six birds in all, with cigar-stub beards. The two adult hens in the former flock have beards that put the shortbearded males to shame.

Let me put a question to you Strut Zoners. Let’s say you’ve hunted hard in a spring turkey state where “bearded birds” are legal, and a bearded spring hen approaches your setup. Would you shoot her?

—Steve Hickoff