Turkey Life Cycle

In the winter, gobblers flock together and separate from hens and jakes (young males). Occasionally jakes are found with gobblers, but typically they remain with the hens until spring. In early spring, the winter flocks begin to break up and courtship and mating begin. Males travel greater distances seeking mates. Gobbling and strutting activity increases. Strutting displays are spectacular, with tail fanning and wing-dragging. Older, dominant birds do most of the breeding and one gobbler is capable of breeding with many females.

Peak time for gobbling in most years is late April. By this time most of the hens are laying eggs or incubating. The average clutch for wild turkeys is about 11 eggs and incubation takes 28 days. In Missouri, most young turkeys hatch in late May and early June.

Wild Turkey Life Cycle Timetable

Flocks break-up     X                  
Gobbling Begins: 1st peak early April     X X                
Gobbling Continues: 2nd peak late April       X X              
Courtship/mating       X X              
Hens nesting         X              
Broods appear           X X X        
Brood flocks form X X X     X X X X X X X
Gobblers seen in small flocks X X X     X X X X X X X

Turkey nests are often located near the edge of woods, old fields and roadsides, but can be found in almost any habitat. As soon as the last turkey has hatched, the hen leads her brood away from the nest. During the first 3 weeks of life, young turkeys (or poults) are vulnerable to cold, rainy weather and must depend on the hen for protection and warmth. In addition, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mink or great-horned owls may prey on young turkeys.

Young turkeys grow rapidly and need a diet high in protein. For the first week, approximately 80 percent of the poult's diet consists of insects. As they grow, their diet broadens to include grass seeds, dogwood fruits, wild grapes, acorns, corn, oats and wheat.

While too young to fly, the poults roost on the ground at night and the hen roosts with them. At approximately two weeks of age, the poults fly short distances and are soon roosting in trees with the hen. By 16 weeks, the young poults are hard to distinguish from adults at a distance.

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