This Turkey Tuesday is about that saying “what a difference a day makes” – in this case, what a difference 6 days make. Wild turkeys ramp up breeding activities each spring, and research has shown that in all but the most unusual years, the timing of breeding activity is consistent from one year to the next. But ongoing research is showing that within a given nesting season, when a hen initiates her nest matters – in other words, the day she starts laying eggs is important. What this looks like is shown in the 2nd and 3rd images, which show data from ~1000 nests monitored using GPS-marked hens across the southeast. The 2nd image shows a graph of failed nests relative to when laying began – the median being April 14. The 3rd image shows a graph of successful nests – the median being April 8. Why would a week matter? Well, for one, earlier nests are often initiated by dominant hens who breed first, and those hens are logically more fit than other hens. Two, for hens to be able to initiate nests early in the breeding season, they must be in good condition and have adequate fat reserves to withstand the rigors of nest incubation. Three, in populations where hunting seasons open at times that correspond with the onset of laying and nesting, hens who breed early and start laying have access to more toms than hens who breed later, after some males have been removed. Research on many species has shown that having access to more breeding males can be important to the productivity of the population in general. Collectively, these points are one reason why agencies make tweaks to the timing of hunting seasons, to ensure that when males are removed is timed appropriately for when laying or incubation are occurring. The take home is, timing matters in the turkey world, being able to breed and begin laying eggs a week earlier than not influences whether those eggs will hatch and contribute to our populations.
Photo of wild turkeys by Stephen Spurlock.