It has feathers, it lays eggs, and it tastes delicious—no, not the chicken, it’s the turkey! Turkeys were domesticated thousands of years ago for their eggs and meat. Wild turkeys still roam large parts of North America. But today, turkey eggs are rarely used for food. Turkeys lay their eggs in nests on the ground, hidden by brush. We can learn a lot about turkeys by looking at how and where they lay eggs.
The Turkey Nesting Process
Before turkeys lay eggs, they need to find a mate and build a nest. Turkeys naturally breed in March or April and start constructing their nests at around the same time. Turkey nests are simple. Mother hens scratch out a shallow depression in the ground to lay eggs in. After that, mother turkeys lay 10-12 eggs over the course of about two weeks. Each egg is bigger than a chicken egg and covered in brown speckles. Once all the eggs are laid, they keep the nest warm for about 26-28 days until the eggs hatch.
Where Do Wild Turkeys Lay Eggs?
Wild turkeys look for a place to nest that is sheltered but gives them a good view. Mother turkeys raise their heads high to look for predators, so their nest needs good sight lines. If it is breeding season and you are constantly seeing a turkey sitting in the same place, there’s a good chance it is on a nest. Since turkeys want to see predators approaching, you can usually see them as they are in their nests.
Turkeys don’t usually nest completely out in the open. A little bit of underbrush is good protection against all the many predators that raid turkey nests. Fewer than half of wild turkey nests will successfully hatch. They are at risk from foxes, opossums, dogs, skunks, and many other animals. That’s one reason why turkeys lay so many eggs at a time.
How Do Farms Produce Turkey Eggs?
Some farmers keep domestic turkeys for eggs. Unlike wild turkeys, domestic hens don’t usually have the chance to find a mate if they’re meant for laying eggs. That means that just like chicken eggs, most turkey eggs laid for eating aren’t fertilized.
Most turkey egg farmers are small-scale backyard farmers. Their turkeys will lay in a coop or in a nest like a wild turkey’s nest. Farmers remove the eggs from the nest as they are laid. That way, the hen won’t stop laying when she has a big enough clutch. Most turkeys kept for eggs will lay about two eggs a week.
Why Don’t We Eat More Turkey Eggs?
Turkey eggs are rare for a few reasons. It’s not because they taste bad—many people love their flavor more than chicken eggs! But it isn’t cost-effective for big farmers to keep turkeys for eggs. Turkeys need more food and space than chickens. They also take longer to grow to maturity. And they only lay a few eggs a week. This means that each egg costs a lot more to produce than chicken eggs. It just isn’t worth it for most farmers.
Farmers who do keep laying hens usually do it because they love the turkeys. You can often find turkey eggs for sale at farmers’ markets, straight from the people who farmed them. Expect a turkey egg to cost quite a bit more than an egg from the store, though! Farmers have to make it worth the extra time and care that turkeys need.
There are millions of turkeys in the US, both on farms and in the wild. Turkey eggs are a rare treat that can be found in small farms and farmers’ markets across the US. And wild turkeys sit on large clutches of eggs to hatch them every year. They scratch out nests in the ground, usually in fairly open spaces. If you live in a place with wild turkeys, keep an eye out near the end of spring. If you are lucky, you might just see a mother turkey on her eggs.
Featured Image Credit: Piqsels