During almost four decades of chasing turkeys, I have learned a lot about turkey behavior. There are many myths about turkeys that I have found to be untrue, and there a few surprises that I could have never imagined. Here are a few of my stand-out observations.
All turkeys can grow beards.
This fact is known by most hunters but some still think only male turkeys can grow beards, when in fact, females can grow them too. However, there is a twist to this beard growing; hermaphrodites can also grow beards. So technically, both sexes of turkeys and turkey freaks can grow beards.
Hens can nest up to four times during the spring.
It is well known that hen turkeys build their nests on the ground and if a nest of eggs gets wiped out by predators, elements or machinery, the hen will rebuild her nest and lay another batch of eggs. However, in 1994 in Illinois, I watched one poor hen actually accomplish four nests full of eggs during one spring. I am also very confident that at least three of those nests contained fertilized eggs.
Hens can strut and gobble.
Yes, hens can gobble just like a jake or tom and they can also strut, and contrary to some myths, those gobbling, strutting hens are not hermaphrodites or genetic freaks. I have witnessed several times a laying, hatching hen mimic gobblers.
Turkeys don’t have legendary eyesight.
Some will scoff at this statement but I have found it to be generally true. However, there is a catch and that catch is that turkeys can indeed see you moving from a mile away, but if you are still and they are on the move, they have a hard time finding you. I have seen several spooked birds circle around on me and try to find me again as I stayed in still silence. They are experts at spotting approaching predators, but not so great at motionless dangers.
Turkeys are cannibalistic.
I suppose all animals under certain circumstances can eat their own, but seeing turkeys do it is really disturbing. I am used to accepting the fact that turkeys eat seeds, nuts plant buds and even bugs, but I was shocked the first time I witnessed turkey cannibalism. In 1983 along with my uncle, I watched a large hen turkey eat two turkey chicks after the season ended. It was common knowledge to my uncle, but not to me. Since then, I have seen it two other times. I watched a young jenny attack and eat a sibling one summer. She tore it to pieces and ate every last feather. I don’t know what to make of this phenomenon, but it is unsettling.
Nature holds many mysteries and you should never be surprised.