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September 2014


Andy Schatschneider | I Want to Know

Why do turkeys fan their feathers?

This time of year, there are lots of turkeys out and about, strutting their stuff, tail feathers fanned out in a beautiful display. So why do turkeys do this?

It's mating season, and the male turkeys, called gobblers or toms, spread their tail feathers as a way to make themselves more attractive to the females, or hens. Strutting, as the mating behavior is called, also includes toms making their distinctive gobble sounds and extending their wing feathers, letting the tips of their wings drag on the ground.

The turkey mating season starts in late March/early-April and usually extends well into May, and the spring turkey hunting season is timed to coincide with it. Hunters typically make calls pretending to be hens in order to lure the male turkeys so they can be hunted. The spring turkey season ends the third week in May.

During the spring turkey season, only male turkeys or bearded female turkeys can be harvested. According to Krista McGinley, assistant upland wildlife ecologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, about 10 percent of female turkeys have beards, which makes it difficult to distinguish them from their male counterparts.

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