How to Tell a Young Male Turkey From a Female Turkey

By Jolee Lautaret

The largest game birds in North America, turkeys are a mealtime favorite during the holidays in the United States. Wild turkeys, once greatly diminished in numbers, now flourish in many areas of the country, though most turkey that is consumed here comes from commercially farmed domestic turkeys. Whether you're hunting or farming, determining the sex of turkeys is sometimes required. The task becomes easier as the birds mature. However, there are several physical characteristics which can distinguish young males, known as jakes, from females, known as jennys.

Vent sex chicks at a day or two old. Grasp the chick with the left hand, keeping its neck between the middle and ring fingers and its feet between the ring and pinky fingers. After evacuating the cloaca by squeezing the lower abdomen, open the vent using the left thumb and right thumb and first finger. Use a magnifying glass to identify the male process, a transparent bulb protruding almost to the opening of the vent, or a shallow depression which signifies a female.

Examine the physical characteristics of the turkey for those older than a few days. Use binoculars if needed.

Examine the head first. Male turkeys have brightly colored heads with no feathers, while females have a few feathers and are dully colored and better camouflaged in the wild. All turkeys have a fleshy appendage called a snood or dew bill which hangs from the beak. A male's snood is much larger and plumper in appearance than a female's.

Check the turkey's legs. Male turkeys have spurs, an extra toe located higher on the leg that is used for defense. Jakes may not have obvious spurs due to their age, so this may not be the most reliable method for determining the sex of younger turkeys.

Examine the turkey's breast and tail feathers. All male turkeys have a fan tail used for attracting females during mating. Jakes do as well, though the feathers may not be of uniform length. Beards --- bristly feathers found on the breast --- are found only found on male turkeys. Males also have more colorful feathers than females, so a bronze-, gold- or green-colored turkey is male.

Weigh the turkey. Male turkeys outweigh females considerably.