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Misconceptions About Bearded Hens

This Turkey Tuesday is about bearded hens and the various misconceptions about them. All wild turkeys, including hens, have a papillae – this is the specialized part of the skin from which the beard emerges. While most toms grow beards, most hens do not, although it’s not uncommon for them to do so. So, are bearded hens any different than “normal” hens? The answer is no. Bearded hens breed, lay clutches of eggs, hatch those eggs, and successfully raise broods, just like any other hen. There is also a wives tale suggesting that bearded hens produce toms with multiple beards, but there is no credible data showing this to be true. You do tend to see that the occurrence of bearded hens is higher in some areas than others, suggesting that perhaps there is a genetic link to the frequency of having bearded hens in a population. Interestingly, bearded hens are legal to be harvested in many states during spring hunting seasons. I suggest that this regulation is largely a relic of days past, when agencies were trying to maximize opportunities for hunters to take birds. Likewise, allowing bearded hens to be harvested also relaxed the responsibilities placed on hunters – in other words, all a hunter had to do was confirm the bird was bearded before harvesting it. In that vein, the allowance to harvest bearded hens during spring is more of a social consideration than a biological one. Regardless, the take home is that bearded hens are just like any other hens – they contribute to the productivity that sustains and drives our wild turkey populations. Pic © Tes Randle Jolly

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