WILDLIFE WATCHING -- The first thing that comes to mind upon seeing the the photo of spring gobblers above is "White meat or dark?"
The mottled white-black tom photographed this week in Pend Oreille County by Mark Turner is a handsome specimen known as a "smoke phase."
A white color aberration of wild turkey is rare in the percentages, but common in the sense that area hunters and wildlife watchers report seeing a few almost every year. Local hunter Ivan Lines bagged a gobbler in 2015 that was snow white like a swan except for the tom's black beard.
Like other white-phase birds and critters, these adult toms beat the higher odds against survival as youngsters with reduced camouflage protection from predators.
Turkey experts in Minnesota and Michigan have said the smoke-phase is a natural occurrence in wild turkeys that's not associated to interbreeding with domestic turkeys. Some experts estimate that roughly one in 100 wild turkeys is white or mostly white-colored. They all agree that hens make up a much higher percentage of white turkeys than toms. That means a full-strutting adult smoke-phase gobbler is quite rare.
Tom Glines, Minnesota's senior regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said the wild turkey has four distinct color variations from what is considered the usual plumage -- smoke phase, erythritic or red phase, melanistic or black phase, and true albinos, which are pure white with pink eyes. Although these color variations are uncommon, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, the smoke phase is the most frequently seen. Recessive genes or mutations account for the color abnormalities.
As for the wild turkey meat, I can tell you from personal experience that it looks and tastes the same -- lighter on the breast and darker on the drumsticks -- regardless of the plumage color.