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Intro to Wild Turkey


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Introduction to the Wild Turkey - Meleagris Gallopavo


A gobbler strutting for a hen

The increase of daylight in spring triggers hormonal changes in wild turkeys. The initiation of gobbling in late February to early March signals the approach of the mating period. Gobbling is used to attract receptive females for mating. Gobblers are polygamous and will mate with several hens. Only the most dominant gobblers do the majority of the mating although subdominant gobblers and jakes will sneak in and breed a few hens..

Gobbling begins before sunrise while the gobbler is still on the roost. The gobbler is hoping to attract as many hens as possible before he flies down. It varies some but usually about 15 minutes before sunrise, the gobbler flies down and begins his courtship display by strutting and gobbling for the hen(s). Strutting begins with the raising of body feathers, fanning of the tail, and dropping the wings alongside to the ground. Blood rushes to the gobbler's head, and his snood elongates and his caruncles turn a bright red. If the hen is receptive, she will crouch before the displaying gobbler and they will mate. A single mating is sufficient to fertilize all eggs, but hens usually mate several times.

Once the mating season is fully underway, hens seek out nesting areas to lay eggs. Laying generally begins in late March to early April through most of the country. Turkeys usually nest in areas (old fields, cutovers, pine forests, stream edges) with a well-developed under story that provides some bushy/vine concealment. One egg is laid daily until a clutch averaging 9 to 11 eggs is completed. Incubation takes 28 days, and all poults hatch within a 24-hour period. Depending on weather, the brood hen and poults leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. Peak hatching period is from about May 20 to June 10. If the first nest is destroyed, some hens attempt a second nest. Hens that have to re-nest lay fewer eggs.

Generally, less than half of all nesting attempts are successful. The fact that wild turkeys nest on the ground and require a total of 6 weeks to lay and incubate eggs makes hens and their nests vulnerable to predation and human disturbance (destroying nests by burning, mowing, and discing). Common predators of turkey eggs include raccoons, skunks, opossums, crows, and snakes. Mortality rates of poults generally range from 70 to 80 percent or higher, especially during their first 2 weeks of life, when they are unable to fly and roost under the hen on the ground.

Poult predators include mammals of which raccoon and bobcats cause the greatest loss. Foxes and coyotes are also important predators. Birds caused 13 percent and reptiles were responsible for 4 percent of the loss. Feral dogs and cats also will prey on hens/eggs when the opportunity arises. Fortunately, turkeys have a high reproductive potential, and one good hatch can significantly increase populations and offset previous poor hatches.

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