A crucial step to furthering any species is reproduction. A coming together of two (or more, in some species) individuals with a plethora of other rituals and dances to spice things up.
One such bird is the wild turkey, which is well-known for its elaborate dances and courtship rituals. But How Do Turkeys Mate?
This is opposed to its all-around lesser fun cousin in most aspects, the domesticated turkey, who does not engage in any particular natural rituals.
They have a completely different process because of selective breeding done by humans.
So today we are going to get up close and personal with these large and funny-looking fowl and talk about their mating and breeding rituals. Let’s dive in!
How Do Wild Turkey Mate? (Meleagris gallopavo)
The turn of the season between spring and summer, which is late in the spring and early in the summer, marks the beginning of the breeding season for wild turkeys.
It begins when the birds are still flocked together. Male wild turkeys, also referred to as toms hit “puberty” or maturity by the age of seven.
They are polygamous, mating with up to 10 hens in one go. Their social structure plays a huge part in who gets to go first, with the dominant male taking the stage first.
The beginning of the breeding season is a play at showing off your strut and display, as the flock decides who the dominant male is.
The performance is a combination of acts and the male turkeys engage in it regularly, pretty much doing only that during the breeding season.
They display for the female birds by puffing out their gorgeous feathers, spreading their tails out, and dragging their wings, a performance commonly referred to as strutting.
The fleshy sections on their neck and throat called wattles turn bright red as if to signal to the female that he is ready!
They use their vocal cords as well, gobbling, drumming/booming, and even spitting as signs of dominance.
The deed itself is very short, most often not going above a minute. Once a female is attracted, they do a quick but respectful little waltz around one another.
Once that is done, the tom gets to the action. He stands atop the female hen to begin coitus, which is the one-minute part, though they can mate several times a day during the breeding season.
Once they mate, the female begins to look for a nesting site and prepare her nest. Turkey nests are actually holes or indentations made into the ground which is then surrounded by woody vegetation.
Hens lay a clutch of about 10-14 eggs, throughout two weeks or so. The eggs are incubated for about a month.
How Do Domestic Turkey Mate? (Meleagris gallopavo domesticus)
Domesticated turkeys are a different story altogether. Yes, the domestic turkey comes in different “breeds”, but no matter what breed, they will all have a breast that is much larger than any of their cousins in the wild.
This crazy increase in chest size is because the domestic turkey is most often bred specifically for meat consumption purposes.
This increase in chest size thus disables the wild turkey from mating with the hen as usual, as he would literally crush her or just injure her in any other way.
To remove this risk entirely, farmers depend on artificial insemination.
Here they take the semen from an induced tom and spread it over many hens. This way they can take the best male and spread its better characteristics throughout the offspring.
This also means that the farmer needs fewer toms and more hens, which works in their favor as well.
The female hens, once inseminated, can lay about 100 eggs a year, though there are breeds like domesticated Bourbon Red that have pushed that number to an incredible 180.
The eggs are similarly incubated for a period of about 28 days. Rarely do the hens themselves incubate their eggs.
The eggs are usually collected by the hatcheries and incubated in optimum temperature and humidity conditions for the egg to develop properly.
Do Turkeys Reproduce Asexually?
Though we just talked about the steps and results of turkeys’ sexual reproduction, a fascinating thing they are capable of is asexual reproduction.
This is where the females are able to produce a fertilized egg even in the absence of a male, which is extremely rare in higher order species.
Even without any sperm involved in the equation, the egg fertilizes and forms an embryo by a process called parthenogenesis.
The embryo then forms a zygote which eventually grows up to a baby turkey which is always a male.
So that was a little bit into the courting and mating of turkeys and how varied the process is for wild turkeys as opposed to domestic turkeys.
It is a fascinating ritual, to see the big colorful birds engage in their shenanigans to impress a female, though we recommend you not stare for too long, it is a private party!
We hope we have answered your burning questions and taught you something new today!
Thank you for reading!
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