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The habits and activity of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are of interest to hunters as well as ecologists and bird enthusiasts. Turkeys devote a lot of energy and time to mating, so it should come as no surprise that there's a remarkable change in the bird's behavior following breeding.
For turkeys, breeding is a giant competition. Males issue "gobbling" calls, strut to display feathers and fight with other turkeys to gain the favor of hens. Hens select and follow a dominant male, often called a gobbler, for several days or weeks during the spring and early summer. Hens only need to mate once to collect enough genetic material to produce offspring for the whole season, but they may interact with mature males on several different occasions during a single season, according to Clemson University Cooperative Extension. The hens may become part of a harem along with one or more other hens, following and breeding with a single male for several days or weeks. It's also possible for hens to strut and struggle for dominance with others of their gender.
After a hen is fertilized by a male turkey, she constructs a nest by depressing a patch of brush or tall grass, according to Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. She deposits eggs daily until she reaches a final clutch size of up to 15 eggs. The mother stops seeking out males in the morning hours of each day once she finishes her clutch. Instead, she devotes herself completely to the task of incubating her unborn chicks. Hens may attempt "re-nest" and lay more eggs using genetic material from her initial mating if her current clutch is lost to predators or an accident.
On the Eggs
While turkey hens are devoted parents that spend a lot of time warming their eggs, there is a limit to their dedication. Scaring or otherwise disturbing a hen or her nest may prompt her to abandon the location as well as her unborn young. The more time she spends with the eggs, the less likely she is to leave them behind. Disruptions during the first week of incubation carries the most risk of scaring the hen away for good, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It takes about a month of near-constant incubation to hatch the eggs.
Turkey hens "talk" to their young with clucking sounds before they even hatch. Chicks are very responsive to their mother's calls and display remarkable obedience at a young age. A hen and her chicks may flock with other new mothers along with their babies. These groupings may continue through the rest of the summer, fall and winter, but are broken up during the following spring mating season. Turkeys tend to stick to familiar turf. They forage and find shelter within the boundaries of a "home range" that can extend for hundreds or even thousands of acres.
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