John Holt, who lives south of Allan Keller and me on Highway W southeast of Ozark, discovered a nest of turkey eggs hidden in the tall grass he was brush hogging in early July. They were fresh so he carefully transferred the seven eggs to his brooder house where in short order they hatched.
Now about a week old, the babies are already are losing their fuzz. As he begins to let them out during the day, John expects to see them flying at two weeks and soon roosting in trees. Before you know it, he says, the young ones will attract mature turkeys and return to the wild with those birds. Based on others’ experiences, he doesn’t anticipate imprinting problems.
Most baby turkeys don’t make it to adulthood or even close. As poults, in their first three weeks of life, they are tasty eating for just about every predator, plus are sensitive to cold and wet. The mother hen is their only protection. Without that mother, these young turkeys are fortunate indeed to have been given a chance at life.
What to do with abandoned baby animals is always a tough call. We know that if a baby bird is found away from the nest it is best to leave it for the mother bird to deal with. What about turkeys? If you find a turkey nest it should be left alone, giving the mother a chance to continue to brood the chicks. However, in this case the nest was close to a house, the tall grass cover had been mowed down, exposing the nest, and there are dogs, coyote, fox and bobcats around. I believe this Illinois Extension article confirms John's wisdom.
"Wild turkeys lay an average of 10 to 12 eggs, approximately one egg a day until the hen has a full clutch. Incubation is done by the hen only and lasts for about 28 days. Hens are very sensitive to disturbance while nesting, and are likely to abandon their eggs if they are startled from the nest. Young turkeys are called poults and are cared for by the female only. Poults are ready to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching."Poults eat primarily insects during their early growth phase when they need lots of protein. They are particularly vulnerable in the first 10 days before they can fly to roost in the trees. Until then, John has his hands full.