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How Do Turkey Families Live?

Wild turkeys are polygamous birds, which means they do not have the same mate for life. The male turkey will mate with many females within a season but it is unlikely that a female will mate with more than one male. On rare occasions if the first nest of eggs fails, the female will lay another. After the nest is laid, the male will go out to court other females.

Turkeys are usually seen in family units. Groups of females and males will hunt in the same area. This is to help raise young and to protect the group from predators. The females are very protective of their young. When there is danger, the baby turkeys, known as poults, will run and hide, and remain perfectly still in the brush until the predator has passed. The mother hen will also fake an injury to distract the predator while the young scatter.

What Is Their Life Cycle?

Male turkeys begin their courtship displays for the females in April. Each male will mate with several females within a single mating period. Each female turkey builds her own nest, where she lays an average of twelve eggs over a two-week period (about one egg per day). The females sit on the eggs for about 28 days until the eggs hatch. A mother turkey will sit on these eggs even if the weather is bad. It is the best protection these eggs have from predators such as snakes and birds of prey. After the incubation period, the poults hatch and are up and walking within 12 to 24 hours. Unlike some birds, the babies can walk to find their own food very soon after they are born. They will hunt with their mother for the next couple weeks but will soon be left on their own to hunt.

What Does the Turkey Courtship Display Look Like?

To attract females during mating season, a male turkey will start the display by fanning the feathers on his tail. These feathers are usually 12 to 15 inches long. The mature males have feathers that are all one length, while juvenile males have shorter feathers along the edges of the fan.

After the fan of feathers is up, the male will ruffle all the feathers on the rest of his body. This gives the appearance that the turkey is larger than he actually is. The male will then lower its wings so the feathers are touching the ground. The male turkey will then walk around a female occasionally grunting and vibrating her body. This will continue, gradually increasing in intensity until the female finally submits.

What Is a Typical Day for the Wild Turkey?

Wild turkeys can be seen in fields or other open areas grazing for food as soon as the sun rises. At night, the birds prefer to roost in the low branches of trees in nearby forests. While the birds do hunt on the ground, they prefer to be higher up at night and will often fly to the low branches of trees to roost.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page