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Nesting Numbers Biologists and Agencies Focus On

This Turkey Tuesday is about nesting – in this case, the numbers that biologists and agencies focus on when trying to get a sense for the productivity of our wild turkey populations. Nesting season is wrapping up in many southern areas yet is in full swing in northern turkey populations. You may see reports of numbers associated with nesting effort, with terms such as nest initiation or nest success – both terms mean something different but are important pieces of information. Nest initiation rates refer to the percentage of hens that attempt to nest, meaning they lay at least one clutch of eggs. That rate averages around 70-90% depending on the year and population – some adult hens don’t nest each year, and usually less than 40% of juvenile females attempt to nest. In arid environments, a lack of precipitation can negatively affect nest initiation rates, and anything that reduces a hen’s body condition or disrupt hormone levels can as well. Nest success rates refer to the percentage of nests that hatch – across many populations we see that nest success averages 20-30%. So, if you combine nest initiation and nest success rates, you can get an idea of how many poults may be hatched into a population. Clutch sizes average about 10-12 for wild turkeys. So, for every 100 hens in a population, and with a nest initiation rate of 80%, a nest success rate of 25%, and a clutch size of 10, you’d expect that about 200 poults were hatched. While this scenario seems like a productive one, the problem is that most poults die – well over half, which I’ll discuss in a future post. The take home is; to realize productive and growing turkey populations, we want to see high rates of nest initiation and success, which is why these metrics are measured so frequently by researchers and biologists. If you’re interested in information on nesting,  search “nest” here om the site.

Pic of hen by Bruce Fetters.

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