Can hen turkeys move 10 eggs in 45 minutes? Several years ago I was hunting in McKean County, Pennsylvania, and I came across a nest and the hen flew off. I continued hunting across the ridge where I met my hunting partner. We headed back across the ridge so I could show him the nest. When we got there the eggs were gone, no shells, no signs of a disturbance. I had photo proof that we were at the right spot.-
John Klausmeier, via email
When I read your account, I thought back to a conversation with a friend who ran over a turkey nest while mowing hay. The hen flew off and the eggs were unharmed but were obvious in the short grass. The next day the eggs were in a grass windrow a few feet from the original site. At the time I figured someone had moved them but acknowledged that the hen might have rolled the eggs to the new site. In the end it did not matter because the nest was destroyed by a predator. After looking at your question I checked with several researchers who have worked on wild turkey studies to glean from their experiences.
All of the biologists agreed that a hen would be hard pressed to pick up eggs and move them. However, all of us felt that it was possible for a hen to roll eggs a short distance. Dr. Bill Healy, who studied imprinted wild turkey behavior in West Virginia, saw that behavior once in a pen.
I studied nesting success and hen survival with radio telemetry in New Jersey. Gary Norman studied wild turkey nesting in Virginia using radio telemetry, Mary Jo Casalena of the Pennsylvania Game Commission has studied nesting and hen survival using satellite transmitters, Dr. Mike Chamberlain has studied hen survival and nesting success in Georgia using GPS and satellite transmitters, and Dr. Bret Collier studied nesting success, nest predation and hen survival among Rio Grande turkeys in Texas with GPS and satellite transmitters and remote cameras placed at nest sites.
Out of all of us, only Collier was able to document a hen turkey moving a clutch of eggs in the wild. That situation occurred when a skunk disturbed the nest. The hen returned to find some eggs broken and consumed. The remote camera captured the hen rolling the eggs about a meter (just over a yard) from the original site, laying a few more eggs and successfully hatching a brood. Technology has allowed us to learn more about wild turkey behavior. Technology also enables us to determine that the behavior is pretty rare.
In the case of the McKean County clutch that disappeared in 45 minutes, all of us are quite certain that the nest was predated in your absence. There are a couple of possible culprits with a group of crows or ravens being the most likely. A pair of them could handle a dozen eggs in a half hour. The most likely mammalian predator capable of taking a whole clutch in short order without leaving shells is a black bear.