Turkey Biology and Nesting

Turkey HuntingI discovered while attending NC State that many land owners and hunters are familiar with whitetail deer and basic deer biology. I also found that just mentioning coyotes in front of a group of hunters will bring about feelings of anger and frustration, and who can blame them? Most hunters are familiar with the damage coyotes can inflict during the fawning season. Many of these deer hunters also enjoy turkey hunting during the spring but didn’t realize how detrimental other wildlife species, such as raccoons, can be to turkey nests. I am not attempting to inflict the hatred associated with coyotes to these nest-predating species, but I do want hunters and land managers to realize what the dangers are to the nests on their property. Here are a few facts about wild turkey nesting that you may find interesting.

When constructing a nest, hens will create a shallow depression in the soil by scratching away leaves and debris. The nest is very simplistic in nature and usually are found at the base of a tree or alongside a downed log. Occasionally they will be located under some type of brush that provides cover. The hens are solely responsible for creating the nest and rearing the poults, the males take no part in this. In North Carolina, hens will lay their eggs around mid-April and begin incubation around the first week in May. The poults will hatch around the first week in June and will be out of the nest within 24 hours. The incubation period is approximately 28 days and hens will typically lay one egg per day until the clutch is complete. The average size clutch is 12 eggs and typically takes 14 days to hatch. If there are more eggs in the clutch it will take however many eggs there are in the nest, plus two days for them to hatch. Unfortunately, there are many predators that will destroy the nests and predate on the eggs or young poults. Raccoons, crows, opossums, and skunks are known for raiding nests before the eggs hatch. Bobcats, hawks, and owls also find a young poult to be an easy meal. If you find a nest that has broken and shattered shells, raccoons or opossums are probably the culprit. If the egg is intact but has a small hole in the top, it was a crow that predated on the nest. If the eggs have successfully hatched, the shell will not be broken but have rounded edges that appear to be precisely cut in half. Obviously, this is what we would like to find in the nest.

The wild turkey reintroduction is one of the most successful wildlife restoration projects ever to take place. While their numbers are increasing exponentially it is always best to remove any type of nesting predator that could limit the amount of turkey poults hatched. Providing food and cover is the best way to begin managing turkey habitat but if you would like to see more turkeys on your property now may be the time to begin trapping to remove some nesting predators.

Andrew Walters