Outdoors: Turkey breeding season is time of challenges
Watching a female mallard with a clutch of tiny babies cross the road to get to some protective shrubbery in one of our residential communities reminded me that it is almost time for one of my favorite hunting seasons.
Wait! Before you stop reading, let me continue by saying that I use a camera instead of a gun these days.
In the past, when it was a necessity to put meat on the table for our family, I hunted squirrel, rabbit, deer, turkey, pheasant and quail.
I quit hunting with a gun about 25 years ago and now only hunt for the pleasure of watching and photographing wildlife.
When we lived in the woods by the river, we watched the turkeys scratch for acorns and bugs under the oaks in our backyard. They would follow the browsing deer on their regular ramblings, picking up the insects the deer had disturbed.
Their routine was as regular as clockwork until breeding season arrived. Then, it became a carnival.
Tom (male) turkeys forget to eat. All they are interested in is parading their feathered finery in front of the females and fighting the other toms for supremacy.
The jakes (younger males) observe the action from the sidelines or go off in mobs on their own, knowing there is no chance of mating until they reach a point of maturity where they can out-fight the older toms.
Toms actually fight with their beaks, necks, wings, and sometimes with their spurs. They will bow up and push against each other, twisting and twining their necks to see who is strongest.
If there is no clear winner, they will sometimes beat each other with their stiff primary wing feathers. If all else fails, they will jump into the air to try to land a sharp leg spur to their opponent.
Finally, one will concede, usually when he is winded and without blood shed, and move to the sidelines. The victor will try to move the females off in another direction.
After mating, the females create a nest by scratching a depression in the ground beneath a shrub, hidden in brush, or beside a fallen tree trunk.
They line the nest with grass and leaves and begin laying one egg a day for the next 12-13 days. When they have a clutch of 10 or so eggs, they will set continuously for approximately 25 days until the young hatch.
As soon as the chicks are dry after hatching, the mother will lead them away from the nest so they will be less noticeable to predators.
If it is a dry spring, more chicks will survive to feast on seeds, fruits, insects, leaves, and other mast. If it is wet, many of the chicks will get wet, cold and lost and not survive the first few weeks of life. They still have less than a 50/50 chance of surviving to adulthood.
Thankfully, nature has a way of continuing the species year after year.
By Beverly Fleming, The Florida Times-Union, jacksonville.com