Mike Adams: Spring is an exciting, dramatic and risky time for wild turkeys

During much of the year, wild turkeys are social birds and typically flock together in groups numbering from just a few individuals to as many as 20 or more. Sometimes, they congregate in bachelor and female groups exclusively.


They have very good eyesight and are extremely cautious. They will run away or fly to a tree to escape a predator or any perceived danger. For safety from ground predators, turkeys roost at night in trees within dense forest stands, often times in swamps.

As with many creatures in the animal kingdom, turkey courtship and breeding normally occur during spring. The breeding season is triggered by more daylight, increasing day length and the frequency of warmer weather. Sometimes with mild winter temperatures, the action begins in January or February.

Prompted by these circumstances, the males, called gobblers or Toms, often start gobbling and displaying to impress the females for mating rights.

During these displays, the carunculate skin on the male turkey’s head turns bright blue and white. The neck caruncles become swollen, and the snood, a fleshy structure hanging from the forehead, becomes elongated and turns bright red.

He will strut, fan out his tail and gobble.

If another male challenges him for the hens, they will battle fiercely. This battle can get quite vicious because they’re armed with leg spurs.

Females, also called hens, are generally not receptive for breeding at the initial onset of the gobbler’s calls and displays.

After mating with the top gobbler, turkey hens create a slight depression on the ground in thick vegetation where they can lay their clutch of eggs.

Laying takes place for about two weeks during which time a single egg is generally laid in the nest each day.

Turkey hens are amazing mothers. She begins continuous incubation after the final egg is laid, and incubation generally lasts three to four weeks.

They are most susceptible to predation during the incubation period as the hen remains on the nest both night and day, with only limited breaks from her duties on the nest, to forage for much-needed food. Hens provide the sole care for nests and successfully hatched broods.

Newly hatched turkey chicks are quickly mobile and begin foraging for themselves soon after hatching. For roughly two weeks after hatching, now called poults, they will roost on the ground until they grow their wings enough to be able to fly into low branches or small trees. The mother hens will be very defensive and protective of these poults.

Wild turkeys are considered to be a prey species and have evolved as a common food source for numerous animals. High mortality is a significant aspect of their life history. Their role as a prey species is well-illustrated by the fact that only approximately 50 percent of nests will be successful.

Of the poults produced from the successful nests, only about 30 percent will survive beyond two weeks of age. While survival increases substantially after three weeks of age, a turkeys overall life expectancy is still only about two years.

Being a game species, another lifespan challenge occurs for the gobblers. In our state, there is a fall hunting season in November and December and the spring hunting season in our region is coming up March 18 through April 23.

Even with all that predation and hunting, however, the wild turkey is a success story. Conservation efforts from both government and private landowners and groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation have all made a difference in their growing healthy population.

To contact Mike Adams, email adamscience@windstream.net.