With turkey season opening this weekend, it seems every hunter has gobbling toms on their minds. While most of us know where we plan to set up and what techniques and calls we plan to use, I thought I would outline some turkey facts that some hunters may not know. While we can only hunt turkeys for a short time, their biology and nesting habits are truly amazing, and our management efforts can benefit our future hunting tremendously.
North Carolina is blessed to be in the eastern wild turkey’s range. This is the most widely distributed range of any of the five subspecies of the wild turkey. Male turkeys are called gobblers and female turkeys are called hens. The gobblers have many iridescent and copper-colored feathers that capture the attention of their potential mates, along with us hunters. They have beards that grow from the middle of their breast and are about 9 inches long on average. They also possess spurs on their legs, which hunters also take pride in. Jakes are considered to be immature gobblers, typically a year old and they have very short beards. Their middle tail feathers are much longer than the rest of their tail fan so they are easily identifiable when strutting. When establishing dominance or attracting a mate, a gobbler will fan his tail feathers out and strut, which enlarges the bird’s appearance. This dominant presence establishes a pecking order and breeding rights. Wild turkeys have roughly six thousand feathers but the hens are not as colorful as the gobblers. The brown and black mixture of feathers found on hens are for camouflaging themselves from predators when nesting on the ground.
When a hen nests on the ground she will find a spot that’s typically next to a downed log or a tree stump. The debris from the forest floor will be raked back and a shallow depression will be wallowed in the dirt. On average, a clutch of eggs will take about 14 days to hatch. If there are more eggs in the clutch, it will take however many eggs there are, plus two days for all of the hatching to cease. The turkey poults will leave the nest after about 24 hours and will eat insects such as grasshoppers and crickets, and cereal grains. This is why it is important to have open land for turkeys to feed in, which is a critical component of a successful management plan. If you were to find a nest of turkey eggs and the shells are destroyed, it could have been any number of nest predators, such as bobcats, foxes, opossums, and raccoons. If the eggs are hollow with a small hole in pierced in the top, a crow was most likely the culprit. If the eggs have hatched, they will be cut in half with almost surgical precision. This is what you would like to find in a nest, indicating a successful hatching.
Trapping and removing any predators will benefit the recruitment of new turkeys into the population. Turkey poults have a long road ahead when it comes to reaching maturity. Between nesting on the ground and avoiding predators after hatching, they are in constant danger. By providing necessary forage, limiting predators, and enhancing their nesting habitat, you can increase the chances of having more turkeys on your property.
For assisstance in finding and managing your own piece of turkey hunting property, please contact Andrew Walters at 252-904-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org