The Life of a Turkey Poult (Chick)

Nature is amazing; the birth and growth of turkey poults prove my point.


Weeks before breeding, turkey hens find a protected place (on the ground) for their eggs.

I know, I know! This is a chick, not a poult! This calls for a little vision here!

After breeding, hens lay their eggs in that prepared nest.  They usually lay one/day for a total of about 12 eggs (these are averages; there’s no hard rule).

The hens will feed before and after laying their eggs.  If not sitting on the nest, she roosts nearby.  If predators destroy the nest while she is feeding, the hen will breed again and lay her eggs in a new nesting area.

She occasionally turns the eggs and clucks to her eggs.

Incubation and Birthing

The incubation period is between 26 and 28 days and the hen stays on the nest. Two or 3 days before birth, the poult eggs start making noises.  Mother hen clucks to them regularly.

The poult uses an egg tooth to start the egg opening process.  He cracks the shell in a fairly even line around the larger end of the egg.  This is hard work for the poult and he may take rest breaks before breaking free of the egg.  His labors can take about 18 hours.

You can tell the difference between a naturally hatched clutch and a destroyed nest by observing the eggs.  The neat chipping of the shell is very different from the ravaging mess predators make.

New Poults

Within 24 hours of the end of the poult hatchings, they leave the nest for 2 reasons:  they are hungry and they want to avoid predators.

Remember imprinting from high school biology? This is the process of social bonding that takes place now, so the poult recognizes his mother’s unique sounds and pitch.

Even if they mix with a variety of other turkey families, when Mother calls, her poults follow.


Next Time:  More Wild Times With Poults!

They Sing, They Dance, They Talk!  😉  (Oops, I got a little carried away!)


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Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 12:02 am  Comments Off on The Life of a Turkey Poult (Chick)  
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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: Did You Know? **

Who Lives Longer – The Wild or Domesticated Turkey?

Biologists say that either species could live the same length of time – into their early teens.  However, few wild turkeys last that more than 5 years!

Life is tough in the wild; fewer than half of the poults that hatch will survive to see their first birthday!

Wild Turkeys Were Almost Extinct!

During the travels of Lewis and Clark, wild turkeys were everywhere!  In his journal, Lewis indicated that wild turkey was one of their favorite foods.  However, as Americans moved westward, they killed off the beautiful birds and turned their natural habitats into cornfields.

One hundred years ago, there were only 30,000 wild turkeys left.  The few that remained lived in extremely inaccessible areas.

By 1920, wild turkeys were extinct in 30 states and only existed in small numbers in 18 states.

The 1950 edition of  The Columbia Encyclopedia stated that wild turkey were extinct in the lands north of Pennsylvania and in Canada.

Early Attempts at Restocking Wild Turkeys …

What Poults Learn in the First 4 Days is Critical to Their Survival!

were not successful for a very interesting reason.   It took generations of conservationists to discover the problem.

But you and I learned about this critical issue in early weeks of Biology I class!  What is it?

In early attempts, conservationists decided to turn domesticated turkeys into wild turkeys.  The birds turned loose after breeding in pens either were killed by predators or starved to death.

During the first 96 hours of a poult’s life, he lives on his remaining yolk reserve.  All the while, he’s learning to catch protein-rich insects, so he can grow strong.

However, if the poult learns to eat foods supplied by humans, he will never learn to feed himself!   You and I know it as “imprinting.”

Wild Turkey Numbers in Modern Times

As of 1998, there were more than 5 million wild turkeys in America! *  The largest population in a single state is in Texas, with 600,000.

Idaho is a state that never had a native population.  In 1998, there were more than 20,000 – and the numbers increase each year.

The state of New York had few wild turkeys at the end of World War II. Now there are over 200,000.


* Much of the credit for these fantastic numbers goes to the volunteer group the National Wild Turkey Federation & state departments of game & fishing.


A Previous Posting (Keeping UV Brighteners Out of Hunting Clothes): I’m waiting for a response from a company; more info soon.


Coming Up: What turkeys are where; the differences between the 5 sub-species; mistakes hunters make while turkey hunting, ….


This blog is a companion to my website:

**  Changed wording for clarity; changed color of paragraph headings.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 11:12 pm  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: Did You Know? **  
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Talkin’ Turkey: The Mating Game, Part 2**

Turkeys Before Mating Season Begins!

You are probably reading other hunter’s blogs, as  I am.  There seem to be a lot of confused turkeys in North America.  I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one who can’t figure out this weather.

The gist of what I’m reading is that — because of the cold, damp mornings, turkeys are waiting until the warmth of mid-day or early afternoon to breed. How are things in your neck of the woods?  Does this hold true in your area?

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch …

The hens have found a place to build their nests.  It is usually on the ground. After preparing her nest, each hen roosts nearby.

After breeding, she returns to the nest and starts laying a group of eggs over the next 10 to 15 days.  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.

Meanwhile, The Gobblers Are …

The boys have been tuning their voices, dusting off their spurs and arranging their feathers for fullest effect.  A guy’s work is never done!

The sound of gobbling fills the air as the males are calling the hens to them for mating.  Although the dominant male mates most, the other gobblers scurry around to find receptive females while the dominant male is busy.

As the mating season progresses, the calls get more strident and insistent – as more hens leave for their nests and the incubation period.

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, gobblers start some serious calling.  They may have been looking for love  ‘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 strut their stuff.  The strut  just as we imagine most turkeys  (see photo): chests out, wings down and tail feathers in full array.


Are you practicing your turkey calls?  See yesterday’s article for the location of free audio info.  The second thing you should be doing pre-season is scouting your proposed turkey hunting area.

More on this subject — next time!


** Changed a few words and punctuation for clarity.


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Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 11:23 am  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: The Mating Game, Part 2**  
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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.


This blog is a companion to my website:

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 12:05 am  Comments Off on Talkin’ Turkey: Let the Mating Begin!  
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Turkeys: Which Baby Poult Hatches First?



Mama Hen's New Recruits!


As a spin on the age-old question, we pose a new one – Which poult hatches first?  Is it the first egg laid by the mother hen, or the last?

Answer: No one knows!

Another Puzzle

No one understands how the poult can peck his way out of his egg with an ‘egg tooth’ that chips a nearly perfect line around the upper edge of the larger end of the egg.

In fact, that is how one can immediately surmise the outcome of the nest: If the eggs are smashed, a predator got to the eggs before birth. Otherwise, the eggs have clean pecks around the edge, as if the poults were unzipping themselves from their cocoon.

Early Lessons

If you recall high school biology, ‘imprinting’ is the process by which a baby learns to recognize her mother, her voice, her commands.

This bonding takes place in the first 24 hours; sometime before hen and poults leave the nest.  Once born, the nest becomes a liability for the hatchlings and mom.

The hen needs to feed the youngsters and predators abound. For the first couple of weeks, the chicks and mom are ground-bound.

Life of the Average Poult

Although the poult can fly at the end of the first week of life, the hatchling spends all his time preening, feeding, peeping. He relies on ‘dear old mom’ for warmth and security.

Between Day 14 and 20, the poult is able to move to the tree roost with his/her mom. The determining factor seems to be the weather; if the weather’s too cool,  the poults would rather stay snuggled up to Mom – on the ground.

The constant stream of  chatter is actually school-time for the youngsters. By the time they can roost in trees, they have developed quite a vocabulary.

They have also started to find their place in the family’s pecking order. Interestingly enough, the pecking order can change over time.

“Feed Me! I’m Yours!”

Poults need high protein meals at first: Bugs and grasshoppers. The wider the chicks range for food, the more likely he is to be attacked by hawks, and other predators. Generally, being in open, exposed areas makes attack more likely. As months pass, turkey chicks learn to thrive in their habitat.

By the first leaves of fall, the poults have merged into young turks. Their diet has changed from bugs and leaves to acorns and other foods on the forest floor.

However, they may find themselves in the cross-hairs of a hunter’s gun, if they learn to raid corn from his deer feeders.


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Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 10:43 am  Comments Off on Turkeys: Which Baby Poult Hatches First?  
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Just How Long Do Wild Turkeys Take to Breed?


020284L_Woodland Splendor_66 x 20_Turkeys

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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