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The Melanistic Morph

This Turkey Tuesday is about one of the color variations sometimes observed in wild turkeys – the melanistic morph. Many species of birds have more than one plumage color, and turkeys are no exception. Each year, you see turkey hunters that are lucky enough to harvest a wild turkey that sports abnormal plumage. Melanistic wild turkeys, which you sometimes hear referred to as “black phase”, are birds that either overproduce the pigment melanin, or have abnormal deposits of melanin, which cause their plumage to be black. Interestingly, you often see the amount of black in the plumage may differ quite a bit from one bird to the next – one bird may be almost solid black whereas another only has portions of its plumage that are black. The overproduction of melanin and abnormal deposits of the same can be traced back to a genetic mutation, and that mutation can be passed from one generation to the next. Therefore, you often see the mutation show up locally and it can be quite persistent – in other words, you may observe melanistic birds throughout many years in a local area as the trait is passed down through the generations. The take home is, wild turkeys show plumage variations throughout their geographic range, and these variations are common in many birds. Has anyone been lucky enough to see or harvest a melanistic tom?

Picture provided by Mike Hanks.

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