Turkey nests have been found in a variety of habitats, but nest are usually situated in close proximity to woody vegetation. Sites are primarily selected for their undergrowth characteristics. Nests are often found at the base of trees or against fallen logs. Though turkeys will not usually select wide-open grasslands for nesting, hens will often select a nest site near a trail or open area. This allows for access to the nest and the trail or open area may be used for a feeding area during incubation. Turkey nests are a shallow depression formed mostly by scratching, squatting, and laying eggs. Most hens lay one egg a day, and have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs. Laying hens cover the eggs with leaves or other material, while incubating hens leave the eggs exposed.

Turkey nesting means behavioral and habitat use changes for turkey hens. Most subspecies of wild turkey are gregarious, but turkey hens change their behavior during the nesting season. When a turkey hen starts looking for a nest site she will avoid all other hens. Once a site is selected, this behavior continues to occur in an area of a half mile around the selected nesting site. However, when she is further out from the nest the hen will associate with other turkeys.

Hens that are incubating may occasionally roost in trees for the night, even after incubating continuously for several days. Most incubating hens leave the nest every day to feed, but occasionally they may skip a day. When a hen leaves the nest, she leaves the nest uncovered and goes directly to water, drink, defecate, and then feed. Time off the nest varies from day to day and weather can play a factor in her outings. On hot days hens seem to feed longer and in a more leisurely manner than on cold days. This makes sense because eggs will remain warmer for longer when the outside temperature is warmer.

Turkeys have an incubation period of about 26 days. Hatching begins with pipping. Pipping is when the poult uses is egg tooth (hard, sharp spike on the upper beak) to break the shell. The pipping poults rotate in the egg to make a complete break around the large end of the egg. Hatching takes about 24 hours. Once the poult frees itself from the egg it is ready to follow the hen within 12-24 hours.

And though large expanses of open grasslands are rarely used for nesting, these areas are important feeding areas for poults. A variety of plant communities is important for the success of local turkey population success, so ensure that your turkey management plan focuses on all of the seasonal needs of wild turkey. Ground-nesting birds have an average success rate of about 15%, but the success of turkey nests can range from 0 to 50% depending upon habitat condition, predators, and environmental factors.

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Turkey Hunting and Management