Talkin’ Turkey: Behaviors During Breeding

Today, I have a couple of important things to tell you about breeding and how they affect a turkey hunter.


While the hens are feverishly building nests, laying eggs and breeding, the toms are sharpening their spurs, preening and strutting.

Remember, toms call the hens to them for breeding.  Therefore, be cautious about which calls you use … and when.

A New Strategy for Late in Turkey Season!

Here’s a strategy for the closing weeks of  turkey hunting season.   By that time, most of the hens have mated and are setting.

The guys are hoping for more sex and they are searching for the remaining hens ready to breed.   This is a great time to use your caller, imitating a shy hen.

At the beginning of the mating season, toms are noisy — insisting hens come to them.  By the end of the season, they are not so picky.

This might be a great time to use decoys.  You are looking for ways to distract the males from the fact you are there.

How Long are the Hens Fertile?

Once hens have bred, they stay fertile up to 8 weeks.   So what?

Let’s say a hen has bred in the early weeks of March, incubated and hatched her poults — and lost them due to predators or difficult weather.

During that 8 week window, hens can lay a new clutch of eggs and have another brood of poults by early June!

Of course, when the fun is over and new poults start hatching, the gobblers head for the hills!  They want no part of diapers and baby training.

At that point, the males get together and travel in flocks, leaving the hens and youngsters behind.

How Old is that Gobbler?

Jakes Have Longer Tail Feathers in the Center of the Main Fan; All the Tail Feathers of a Mature Tom are the Same Length.

A quick tip here:   Are you aware that young jakes have longer primary feathers in the center of their fan-shaped tails?

In fact that is a way to tell a mature tom from a young jake!

Nature is Amazing!

Biologists estimate that 1/2 of the young poults die because of  predators and bad weather or habitat.

Predators can kill entire nests of eggs and yet the hen can have a second clutch of eggs without re-breeding.

Nature is fascinating!


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Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: Behaviors During Breeding  
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Talkin’ Turkey: Studying the Land Before Hunting

Hunters who have early access to the land where they will be turkey hunting have an incredible advantage over those who arrive just in time to start hunting.

What You Are Looking For …

Doing Pre-Season Work Will Serve You Well During Turkey Hunting!

In pre-season, finding the turkey roosts  is the key to a great hunting season.  By walking the area early, without gun or trappings, you will have a much easier time of locating roosts and strutting areas.

Turkeys seem to favor agricultural areas, bottom lands and the woods.  They also need a source of water.

Turkeys eat a mixture of seeds, nuts and fruits, greens and insects. Around agricultural areas, they eat the waste grains in fields:  buckwheat, corn, soybeans, oats, and grain sorghum.

Hens eat about 1/3 pound of food, while gobblers need 1/2 to 1 lb. daily. Turkeys are going to range within an area that will offer the herd enough food and water.

Turkey Behavior

During the fall and winter seasons, male and female turkeys travel in large groups.  In early spring however, the bunches separate along gender lines.  Each sex has differing tasks.

As you might imagine, the guys are going to argue about who is the “biggest and baddest.”  Biologists would say they are working out their dominance issues.

The jakes (young males) have left their mothers and are learning their new roles.  They watch the fights for dominance between the more seasoned gobblers (adult males).

The females search for safe nesting areas and prepare their nests for the incubation period after breeding.  Given a choice, females often choose the base of a mature tree or stump, in open woods.

Applying What You Have Learned

Once the two sexes separate, their roosts tend to be considerable distances from each other.  Gobblers talk year-round, with a huge increase before and during breeding.

Gobblers seem to need to chatter; so listen for their gobbling.  Once you have found turkeys, sit and watch for awhile. Listen to the calling and gobbling. How do the other birds react?


By doing this pre-season work now, when the season starts you can move in, take your limit and go home.

As the turkey season progresses, it gets harder to snare a gobbler. Turkeys are not stupid.


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Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: Studying the Land Before Hunting  
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Talkin’ Turkey: Let the Mating Begin!

Biologists have been giving us new insights into the habits and habitats of turkeys.  Everything we learn can help us out-fox these clever birds.

As the Seasons Change

Yes, Our Boys are Very Busy ... Preening and Strutting!

During the colder months, gobblers (adult turkeys)  flock together.  As the days grow longer, gobblers start to think about girls (hens and jennys).

In the spring months, the jakes (young males) leave their mothers. As this group of offspring grows older, the mother hens start dreaming of raising new poults (infant turkeys).  Things are changing.

The increase in sunlight hours in spring brings about the turkeys’ spring mating ritual. States that have spring turkey seasons set the dates when turkeys are spending their time breeding  instead of watching hunters.

Gobblers Think They Are ‘Hot Stuff’

By the time breeding begins, the gobblers have established the pecking order within their group.  The “biggest, baddest’ gobbler gets to breed with the most females.  While “Big Boy” is out romancing one hen, the other gobblers are looking for other receptive females – before “Big Boy” gets back.

Looking at the image above, it is easy to see that gobblers have convinced themselves that they are ‘hot stuff’ and that the hens should come running before the head gobbler tires of the mating game (an unlikely occurence).

In spite of the fact that gobblers don’t do a lick of work towards getting the nests ready, nor do they take a tour of duty during incubation time, nor do they even give a morsel to the new poults, these guys still expect the females to come to them for mating!

Applying What You’ve Learned

As a spring hunter, you will be trying to get the males to come to you.  From the above paragraph, you see that this not the way gobblers think:  They call the hens to come to them! (Those girls need to unionize!)

While hens are finding and creating safe nests for their young, what are the gobblers doing?  Well … preening and strutting, of course!

In the weeks before turkey season begins, you have 2 major jobs.  The first one is to get a turkey caller or two — and start practicing.

I found an online site that will give you the sounds you need to learn to copy in the wild.  It’s the National Wild Turkey Federation (complete with an explanation and audio of each sound).


Next Time: the rest of this article.


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Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 12:05 am  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: Let the Mating Begin!  
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Just How Long Do Wild Turkeys Take to Breed?


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Turkeys Travel Together Until Mating Season!


Ben Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be America’s symbol to the world. Considering the way we toss around the word “turkey” (“Boy, that movie was a turkey!”), it’s just as well Ben didn’t get his wish!

The Mating Ritual Begins

As days get longer, this signals the beginning of the turkey mating season. Generally, the season takes place in March and April.

The tranquil lives of these birds suddenly starts to change. Gobblers (mature males) that have travelled together all winter, separate. Jakes (young  males) leave the hens and the hens start dreaming of new youngsters (poults).

These birds begin to act more aggressively (against their own gender) and the talking increases. Gobbling, generally, has two very active phases.

As sexual excitement starts to build, the gobbling increases. Gobblers are calling to females, expecting them to come to the male’s call.

Hunting Season Comes During Mating Season

There’s a major season of mating and then a shorter, later season, when females are starting to nest. At this point, males are more insistent and aggressive.

Lots of turkey hunters think that gobblers get sloppy during this later season — and are easier to catch off-guard.

Game wardens set turkey season during this time of increased activity. The birds are paying more attention to each other — rather than to hunters.

The Male Turkeys

All males operate through a rigid pecking order. The dominant male mates the most.

Since males are not worrying about taking care of any newborns, they have plenty of time to preen, strut and spit (the spit sounds like a sharp -‘fsssst’).

Uninterrupted, the large birds take only seconds to mate.   After a male finishes mating with one hen, he immediately looks for another.

Mating Season for the Hen

A few weeks before breeding, hens are looking for a nesting area, away from their winter roosting area.  She builds the nest on the ground, concealed in dead tree debris, in dense grass, etc.

After mating, she tends to lay ~ an egg/day.  Over the span of 10 – 15 days, she lays ~ a dozen eggs.

Before and after laying, she will feed and and rest in the near vicinity of her nest. Once incubation begins, she begins to talk and turn over her eggs. Incubation lasts between 26 and 28 days.

The dozen, or so, poults are born over the span of 18 hours, using an “egg tooth” to chip his way out of the egg. Amazingly, the chipping is in a fairly straight line around the wider edge of the egg.


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Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  
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Turkey Mating Ritual in the Spring


Anxious Gobbler Looking for a Hen!

Anxious Gobbler Looking for a Hen!


During the dark days of fall, gobblers tend to flock together. But as the longer days arrive, gobblers separate, jakes leave the hens and hens start dreaming of new poults in their nests.

Thus, the increased sunlight of spring summons the turkey’s mating ritual.

Getting Ready for the Mating Dance

Over time, the gobblers establish a pecking order within their group. The dominant bird does the breeding. Since he isn’t into nappies and raising the young, he constantly scurries off to find (yet) another mate.

Wildlife departments schedule spring hunting season during this time that turkeys breed.

The same bird that “doesn’t do nappies,” also expects the females to  come to him. Spring hunters call gobblers, hoping the male will do the opposite of what happens in nature — the gobbler going to the hen-sounding hunter.

Peak Gobbling Periods

The two times turkeys “gobble-obble” most are – during spring mating season and when the hens start their nesting. Most of the breeding is finished by the nesting, but big gobblers become more aggressive and try to find the remaining receptive females.

Gobbling starts as soon as daylight starts to appear, while turkeys are still in their roosts. Once the gobblers hit the ground, they start calling hens in earnest. This calling continues until the warmest hours of the day.

Just before it is time for the evening roost , males start some serious calling. They may have been looking “in all the wrong places,” but “at closing time,” all the hens start to look beautiful.

They don’t want to roost alone, so they may start their strut.  The strut  is actually the way most turkeys are shown (see photo): chests out, wings down and tail feathers in full array.


Biologists believe that the midmorning hours are when most mating occurs.  Weeks before this takes place, hens start looking for a nesting place (usually on the  ground). They prepare the spot and start to roost nearby.

It takes the hens 10 to 15 days to lay the whole clutch (group) of eggs. She feeds before and after laying.

If, while she is feeding, the nest is attacked and destroyed, she will breed again while creating a nest in another location.

It takes about 26 to 28 days for the poults to emerge.


Come back for further adventures with our hens, poults and gobblers!  They walk, they talk, they gobble!

Will the little poults survive?  Will their fathers care?  Stay tuned.


This blog is a companion to my website:

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 7:00 am  Comments (1)  
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More Turkey Talk – Terminology

A Little Terminology


Note the Beard Sticking out of the Mid-Chest of each Turkey; Looks Like a Pony-Tail Hanging out of the Chest!)


Gobbler – adult male, usually 2 years of age + , all tail feathers are same length; overall – looks black, with red/white/blue head

Jake –  young male, middle tail feather is longer than the others

Hen – female adult, smaller and duller in color than males; overall – looks dark brown

Jennys – young hens


Truth is Stranger than Fiction

1) Male turkeys have beards – which are made up of modified feathers. It is not unusual for a male to have more than one beard!

2) One in 20 females has a beard!

3) Habitat determines a wild turkey’s weight. They average about 20 lbs. in the agricultural areas of the Midwest. In other areas, they average somewhat less than 20 lbs.

4) Turkey hunters tend to be more interested in the size of the turkey’s beard and spurs, rather than their weight!


UPCOMING: Turkey Behavior You Need to Understand; Preseason Ideas for the Turkey Hunter; and more!


* ‘1999 Minnesota Turkeys’ used by permission of Vantage Point Graphics.


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Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Comments Off on More Turkey Talk – Terminology  
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