The beard is a collection of filaments, or bristles, protruding from the breast of a male turkey, just below his chest. It begins growing when a bird is about 5 months old and continues to grow throughout his life, typically 4 or 5 inches per year.
Spring jakes usually have 3- to 4-inch beards, though some early-hatched birds sport 5-inch beards. When a gobbler reaches 2, his beard is usually 8 to 10 inches. A beard gets its black color from melanin, a pigment that colors and strengthens feathers. The newly emerging beards of young turkeys contain little melanin, so the bristles are amber-colored. Even when a gobbler is 2, his beard will retain those original amber tips because they haven’t broken off yet. If you hold the beard of a 2-year-old gobbler under light, you’ll see the tips are mostly amber.
When a gobbler is 3, his beard will have grown about 14 inches. However, few toms have beards that long because the bristles wear off at the tip at about the same rate as the beard grows. Usually, this occurs when the beard touches the ground as a gobbler stoops to feed or, in Northern climates, filaments break off from winter ice. Therefore, most 3-year-old and older gobblers have “only” 9- to 10-inch beards. Further, their tips will be mostly black because the original amber filaments have broken off.
Some hens — maybe one in 20, depending on the location — also grow beards. Typically, hen beards are thin and measure 6 to 8 inches.