Sunday, May 6, 2012

Wildlife: Turkeys Grow Fast To Avoid Predation

In a few weeks, broods of turkeys will begin to appear in woods and along country roads. In Pennsylvania, hatching peaks around June 1 after a 28-day incubation period. After the mild winter and early spring, it will be interesting to see if broods appear earlier this year.
Young turkeys are precocial -- they leave the nest with the hen just hours after hatching. Sometimes several hens form large flocks with their offspring.

Hunters and birders alike often ask how to age young turkeys. Here's a guide to aging them by size. It's not exact because everything from weather and food availability to genetics affects growth rates, but it will put you in the ball park.

A newly hatched poult stands 4 to 5 inches tall, about twice as large as a newly hatched domestic chicken, and is completely covered in natal down. At seven days it has grown an inch or two, and juvenile feathers begin to replace the natal down. Sometime during this second week, poults develop the ability to fly to a roost. This is a critical skill, because every night they spend on the ground puts them at risk to predators such as bobcats, coyotes, foxes and great horned owls.
At three weeks of age, the young turkeys have doubled in size and now stand 8 to 9 inches tall. By now, poults can fly short distances.

When a month old, young turkeys are about 9 to 10 inches high, and a week later they reach 10 to 11 inches. At this point, their natal down has been completely replaced by juvenile feathers.
By the end of Week 6, poults stand about a foot tall. At two months of age, young turkeys stand 12 to 14 inches tall, and tail and wing feathers are growing rapidly. At 13 weeks, poults stand 19 to 20 inches tall, about two-thirds the size of adult hens. Young males begin to appear darker than females due to sexual differences in molt.

At 15 weeks, poults stand 18 to 23 inches tall and males are clearly taller than young hens. After 16 weeks young males are taller, but distinctly trimmer, than adult hens.
If you can accurately estimate the size of young turkeys, you should be able to estimate their age. By the end of summer, they'll be fully grown.

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