RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas — In the spring, the spirited gobbling of wild Rio Grande turkeys echoes thru the oak mottes and mesquite thickets of deep South Texas.
The gaudy gobblers boldly strut with tail feathers spread wide striving to attract a willing hen.
After mating, the hen will seek out a well-hidden ground-nesting site in summer where she will lay up to a dozen eggs. She will incubate for nearly a month, never straying long from her nest.
At just 12 to 24 hours after hatching the young turkeys or poults will follow the hen. Within hours, they will begin pecking at food items mimicking their mother’s behavior.
These poults are only a couple of weeks old, and you can barely see them in the cloaking grass as they track their mother.
Insects are the number one item on the menu during these first weeks, and this protein rich diet will enable the poults to grow rapidly. This opportunistic youngster is actually snatching mosquitoes from its mother’s feathers as they stroll thru the tall grass.
The young will be able to fly short distances in just two weeks and roost with their mother. The faster they mature the greater their chance of survival.
Only a pair of poults has survived to join this hen. The mortality for young turkeys is 50 to 75 percent, as they are very vulnerable to predation during their early development.
Wild turkeys spend nearly all their waking hours feeding, but occasionally pause to preen. Feather maintenance is shared by the precocious young, and it is a daunting task as mature turkeys have some 5,000 to 6,000 feathers to care for.
With a little luck and a lot of pecking, these young Rio Grande turkeys may grow up to strut their stuff and herald in the spring in the wildlands of South Texas.