Laying Data And Nesting Behavior Of Wild Turkeys

This paper reports on the behavior of nesting wild turkeys (Meleagris gaZZopavo osceola) obtained by radio-tracking 97 wild hens during the spring and summer of 1968 through 1971 on two study areas in Florida. More than 80 percent of the 71 nests found were in natural scrub vegetation. They were made when the hens scratched shallow depressions in the soil. A few leaves or other dried vegetation were placed by the hens with their bills over each newly laid egg just before the hens left their nests after laying. Nesting material probably accumulated inadvertently in that way rather than by deliberate construction of a nest prior to laying. Egg covering material was obtained within the reach of hens from their nests. Eggs were covered more often during the laying period than after incubation was underway. Eggs were laid in the nests about mid-day at a rate of less than one per day. Hens generally remained at their nests longer when they laid the seventh egg. One hen was believed to have laid three eggs aimlessly before starting a nest for the remainder of her clutch. Some hens began continuous incubation behavior with the laying of the last egg but an equal number roosted away from the nest the night after the last egg was laid. A few hens roosted away from their nests at least one night after incubation behavior had been underway for several days. Hens left their nests for periods averaging 1 hour and 50 minutes during the incubation behavior period. This happened at all hours of the day, most often in late afternoon, but not every day. At least one hen remained on the nest continuously for three days and others were known to have incubated continuously for more than two consecutive days. Hens walked or flew to and from their nests during the laying and incubation periods. The period of time that hens sat continuously on their nests during the incubation period was less than 27 days but this behavior is complicated by variables which require more study. Clutch size was 9.6 eggs per nest for juveniles and for adults. Juveniles showed a lesser tendency to nest and renest than adults, but they had a larger percentage of successful nests. The hatching rates were similar for adults and juveniles. The greatest limitation on the productivity of juveniles compared to adults appears to be their lesser tendency to renest. Notes on the behavior of hens on nests and some other observations are described.

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