Outdoor Articles

Turkey Breeding Season Phases

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Turkey Hunting

Turkeys go through several different phases during the breeding season and these phases usually signal increases and decreases in gobbling activity. The dates given are for turkeys in the northern states.

Phase 1: Flock Re-integration Gobbling Peak (early to late March)

As the days become warmer, and the urge to mate comes over the turkeys, the jakes may join the toms to form groups as they search for hens. In areas where food sources are limited the toms and jakes may travel with the hens throughout the day, and roost with them at night. As a result of the toms being in contact with the hens there may be an early gobbling peak that is not often talked about. The dominant adult males usually do most of the gobbling at this time, and as the days grow longer more males begin to gobble. In the south gobbling may begin in early February, in the north it may begin as early as the first week of March. This phase may not occur in all areas.

Phase 2: Post Flock Re-integration Gobbling Lull (late March)

During the three years of my research I found that gobbling activity usually decreased within a week of the toms and hens getting together. Although this lack of gobbling may be a result of the toms being near the hens, and thus not needing to gobble, I suspect that low temperature and wet conditions contributed to decreased gobbling. This is when birds in some areas begin to leave their wintering areas, and when large tom flocks may break up into smaller groups, which results in less gobbling activity.

Phase 3: Pre-Primary Breeding Period Gobbling Peak (early to mid April)

As the days become longer the toms start to gobble more. Although the hens may not be ready to breed at this time (because they are either not ready, or it is too cold and wet) the toms are, and they increase their gobbling in an effort to attract the hens. This results in an increase in gobbling prior to the primary breeding phase. If the hens are still in large flocks they may begin to breakup and migrate at this time. The toms may follow the hen groups when they migrate, or the toms may migrate later. Because the toms are ready to breed, and they are still establishing dominance, they may respond to the sound of a hen to initiate breeding, or to the sound of a gobbler to exert dominance. This phase may last a week or more, until the hens are ready to breed.

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Phase 4: Primary Breeding Period Gobbling Lull (mid to late April)

As the days continue to grow longer, and the weather warms, the hens become interested in breeding and spend more time at feeding areas and strutting sites, where the toms often hang out. To attract the hens when they are within visual range the toms gobble less, and begin to display by strutting, showing their colorful head, and by spitting and drumming. Because the toms are displaying instead of calling to attract hens there is a decrease in gobbling during this phase. This is when the toms are least likely to respond to a call. This phase may last from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the number and sex ratio of birds in the area, and the weather.

Phase 5: Post Primary Breeding Period Gobbling Peak (early to mid May)

After the hens have been bred they begin building nests and laying their eggs. However, they don’t spend much time on the nest until after their last egg has been laid. Since hens may lay up to 12 eggs, they may not begin nesting until 1-2 weeks after they have been bred. While they are laying and nesting the hens usually travel by themselves, but they may join other hens at preferred feeding/strutting sites, where there may be toms. Gobbling activity usually reaches its highest level while the hens nest and the toms try to attract any hens that are still willing to breed. This is when the toms may be the most willing to respond to calling. This phase may last for a week or more.

Phase 6: Nesting Period Gobbling Lull (mid to late May)

Gobbling activity usually decreases within a few weeks of the majority of the hens being bred. During this phase the hens begin to spend more time on their nests, and fewer hens show up at early morning feeding and strutting areas. The decrease in gobbling at this time may be a result of the toms being worn out and seeing fewer hens. Older hens may breed again at this time if their first nesting attempt was unsuccessful. Yearling hens may begin their first breeding during this phase.

Phase 7: Post Nesting Period Gobbling Peak (early to mid June)

During my studies in both 1999 and 2000 there was an increase in gobbling activity by single subdominant toms and groups of jakes in late May. Because researchers believe that gobbling by dominant males suppresses gobbling by subdominants, I suspect that the subdominant jakes and toms began gobbling at this time because the dominants were done gobbling. This gobbling peak may precede a late breeding phase as older hens attempt to re-nest, and yearling hens attempt to nest for the first time. This phase may not occur in all areas.

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