Re-nesting hens

We had a lot of rain here during nesting season this year. I have toms and hens in my front yard all year long. My concern is that I’m not seeing any poults, and it’s the first of July. My question is, if either rain or predators destroy a hen’s nest, will she try again or not?  

— Wayne Blessing, Rutherford County, North Carolina

Thank you for contacting Turkey Country with your question about whether wild turkey hens re-nest after losing their first clutch. Weather plays a very important role in adult wild turkey physical condition, nesting success and poult survival. Hard winters can reduce the energy reserves that hens have to nest and make it tougher for a hen to re-nest. Spring rain has been shown to affect both nesting success and poult survival, especially if the air temperature is lower than normal. Wet hens likely leave a stronger scent trail than dry hens. Biologists theorize that wet spring weather may allow nest predators, like raccoons, to more easily locate nests and eat the eggs. Cold rainy weather may also make it more likely that a hen will abandon the nest. 

Re-nesting rates vary by year, and the age of the hen is an important factor. Adult hens are more likely to lay a second clutch than juvenile hens, simply because they are more experienced nesters and are in better physical condition.

Studies of Eastern wild turkey hen nesting indicate that 30 to 70 percent of adult hens that lost their first clutch of eggs will attempt to re-nest. The re-nesting rate among juvenile Eastern hens varied from 12 to 70 percent. Hens that lose their clutch while they are still laying are more likely to re-nest than hens that have been incubating for a while. In rainy springs, second nests can make a difference in recruitment (the number of young that enter the population), as late-hatch poults might have a higher survival rate. 

The answer is yes, many hen turkeys will try to re-nest if they lose their first nest to a predator or disturbance. Re-nesting is sort of an insurance policy for turkey populations. In one study I conducted, an adult hen attempted to nest four times in one breeding season. She lost her first three nests to predators while laying. She started incubating her fourth nest in mid-July, but those eggs were infertile. She stayed on that nest for more than a month before giving up. Talk about persistent! Although hatches vary from year to year, hopefully most poor years will be followed by a good one.

— Dr. Tom

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