Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eggs of Summer

Even though it is summer and the turkey chicks are now able to fly 30 feet, we are still getting reports of eggs.

On June 20th, Matt Boehner sent me this report to go with the picture above:
"Stumbled upon a turkey nest near my wireless internet receiver yesterday. We have seen the female walking alone in the mornings and late afternoons, and my neighbor suspected she had a nest nearby. I was a little shocked to find it so close to the road, maybe 15 feet away in some thick brush. 12 eggs, no defined or protected nest, just enough space for her."
I suspect that this was a second or third attempt by a hen who lost a previous nest.  The turkey eggs in this picture were in a six foot tall patch of elderberry.  They were being brooded the first week of May.  We found the nest disturbed with broken eggs the following week.  Late in May, a hen had returned to the same patch with another batch of eggs.  We don't know the outcome as we made the area "off limits" but we have subsequently seen a flock of chicks with a hen in that field.

Then on June 30th, we had a report of a batch of large tan eggs under the ninebark thicket across our swimming hole, laying on a pile of wood from a previous flood.  It was inaccessible by foot, so I had to swim across without a camera to see them.  Sure enough there they were, scattered over a two foot diameter area. 

With no sign of feathers or surface disturbance around I decided to pick one up.  It was hard shelled and extremely light.  While most were pure tan like Matt's picture above, a few had dark brown patches like Black Vulture eggs and were a comparable size.  There was one other characteristic on two of them which allowed me to identify them.

Very few eggs have a stem, a feature that only Buck could dream up.  These eggs would never hatch- they are gourds!  I have collected similar gourds from our field every fall after the hay is cut.  They are a native wild gourd species.  They have been found by farmers to have a use beyond decoration.
"The small egg-shaped and egg-sized fruits of this heirloom gourd provide decorative value now but once served an important purpose on the family farm. If the farmer removes all the eggs from a hen's nest, the hen finds a safer place to lay. A nest egg gourd left behind keeps the hen coming back to add eggs to the clutch." ehow.com
Baker Creek Seeds describes these as "(Curcurbita pepo var. ovifera). Highly popular in the 1800's, the gourds are the size and shape of a hen's egg, and are white in color. They are used as nest eggs; often found growing wild here in the Ozarks."  Just don't try to make an omelet with them.

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