RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Echoing thru oak mottes and mesquite thickets of deep South Texas, the spirited gobbling of wild turkeys heralds the dawn.

Soon, dozens of Rio Grande turkeys emerge from the woods beginning their morning march, with hens in the vanguard, gaudy gobblers strutting behind.

The first golden rays of day burnish a shimmering flock as they stroll across a sunlit meadow.

Texas boasts the nation’s largest population of wild turkeys, with more than half a million birds residing in the Lone Star State, including the Merriam’s of West Texas and the Eastern subspecies, but Rio Grande gobblers are by far most numerous.

During recent spring and fall turkey seasons, Texas hunters in a typical year take less than 20,000 of the wary wild birds, which pales in comparison to 46 million domestic turkeys estimated to be consumed annually during Thanksgiving in the United States.

A mature wild tom or male can top 30 pounds, with 5,000 to 6,000 glittering feathers, reflecting an iridescent glow of shimmering bronze, green and reddish hues.

When the sun strikes a strutting gobbler the effect is stunning. In contrast, the smaller females or hens are a drab brownish color, and the camouflage helps protect them during incubation.

Mature gobblers sport a prominent wattle or bright reddish skin that protrudes from the neck. They also have another elongated piece of flesh called a snood that adorns their forehead.

While both male and female turkeys have wattles and snoods, the male appendages are much larger and more colorful, particularly during the spring mating season.

Toms also grow beards, along with a small percentage of hens, with some reaching a foot in length. They resemble tufts of hair but are actually bristly clusters of stiff filaments similar to feathers.

When you put it all together, feathers, wattles, snoods, and beards…there is nothing more resplendent in the South Texas wildlands than a strutting gobbler.