Soon after turkey season opens in the spring, hens scurry to find a cozy place to nest; habitat that will ensure protection, yet still be comfortable.
Donnie Buckland, NWTF private lands coordinator, said turkeys like to choose habitats like hayfields, woodlot edges, pastures and old fields. Any place that’s open, has overhead cover and allows her see predators. After choosing a location, the hen will lay one egg or more each day until she has laid a full clutch (12-14 eggs). She then will start to incubate the eggs. The closer the eggs are to hatching, the more reluctant she is to get up from her nest due to predators.
“If you happen to walk up on a nesting hen and she runs off, she will come back to her nest,” Buckland said. “Once you know there is a nest, try to avoid going to that spot as much as possible so the hen can hatch her poults.”
After her poults hatch, the hen immediately goes in search of a new location to avoid predators. Along the way, she will dig up insects for her poults to consume; it is crucial at this time of their lives to eat lots of protein. The hen chooses habitat with overhead protection but not too thick for the poults to navigate through, like a wheat or hay field.
“So be aware of your surroundings when walking the edges of a field or when mowing a field, you never know where a hen might be brooding,” Buckland said.
At night, the hen will nest with her poults under her wings to keep them warm. Within weeks, poults can fly well enough to roost in low trees with the hen. Once the poults make it past week six, the hen’s work is easier, and the poults have a higher percentage of making it to adulthood.
— Jayce Owens