Miracles happen every day!
We have been fortunate to witness several turkey miracles and the recent tropical storm that recently swept across Florida presented me with a little time to write the story of two of these miracles.
Late summer, the Florida cycle of heat, lighting, rain and mosquitos was in full swing. Peak hurricane season was approaching-always a tense watch on the tropics. The season of babies should be over; yet some of the turkey hens were still laying and nesting and we were carefully watching one particular nesting hen whose eggs were due in a few days.
Day 25 of her incubation period had arrived. Three days remaining (in theory: because some of the some of the summer nests hatch in 25 days)
We were concerned with several obstacles to a successful hatch:
One concern was that the central Florida summer hatching success rates (for us anyway) was only about 25% successful, (early & late spring success rates are close to 95%)
So out of the 13 eggs the hen started with, we only anticipated four or if lucky five to actually hatch.
Our second worry, eggs breaking:
For unknown reasons the hen had been accidently crushing her eggs while sitting on them.
Perhaps lack of calcium during the laying period? We had no idea but the consequences were disheartening.
During the past two weeks we had picked up crushed eggs in the yard-The hen would break an egg under her and then fly the shattered egg away from the nest and drop it in the yard. Typical bird/turkey behavior. (we would find jay and mocking birds eggs remains in the yard also)
With some curiosity, I was able to monitor the development of the embryo stages when I buried the broken eggs-and of course it was always heartbreaking to find ‘almost’ hatched babies just shy of escaping the shell.
Well, day 25 and Bunny finds another broken egg dropped in the yard. She scooped it up to dispose of it and was shocked to hear the crushed egg “Chirp!” The immature baby turkey was still alive after being crushed and discarded in the yard. A miracle itself that the Bunny discovered the egg before the every present voracious fire ants were at it.
She carefully placed the crushed egg in the incubator without attempting to remove the baby from the egg. Three days premature and in a crushed shell. I speculated there was about a 1% chance the baby turkey would survive. But then Bobbles had survived against great odds. So all we could do was wait and see what would happen.
I of course did what I should have done when the first egg broke. I gave the hen a couple of fake (ceramic) eggs to sit on and collected all the remaining real eggs from the nest and put them thru the “cold test” Only two of the eggs turned out to be alive and were placed them in the incubator.
The two eggs I placed in the incubator never hatched. However the other resident of the incubator thrived!
The premature turkey actually survived and around day 29 was healthy enough to be placed under her mother.
We named her Misty (easier name to pronounce than ‘miracle’) and she was the final turkey to be hatched in our 2015 season. And as of 2016 she already has had one clutch of baby turkeys (even in this tough raccoon season)
Misty and Mom on their night perch. Note: this was prime Florida mosquito season and every night they received 1-2 mosquito repellent sticks to ward off avian pox.
Misty inspects a Florida Banded water snake. Actually there was a pair of snakes & I shushed them out of the yard.
Misty the Miracle turkey!
Attack on hen near the chain link fence. The hen recovered. Oddly the eggs were not harmed. Fox?
“The incubator talk”
Late spring, Saturday morning doing yard work and two teenagers drove their golf cart to the front gate, explaining they had found a turkey nesting along the shell road.
On the walk down the road I reflected on how 2016 had been the worst year for predator attacks in our 15 years of raising turkeys. I had already trapped five raccoons and six opossums. I had new game camera photos of a fox looking in the door, could hear coyotes along the St. Johns River but worst of all there was at least one large raccoon that knew to avoid the box trap.
No owl or bobcat attacks this year, still several hens had been killed or injured and most of the nests raided. Of course the hens were not helping me or themselves by selecting nest sites far outside of our property line and consequently I had not been able to build a predator proof barricade.
I found the hen and twelve eggs, along a chain-link fence only a few feet from the road. She had chosen a location about two hundred yards away from our front gate.
I had no idea when the turkey had started nesting and of course no idea when the eggs were due to hatch, however I could not let the hen remain on the nest one day longer. The shell road was heavily layered with both dog and raccoon tracks. Furthermore, I had only recently nursed back to heath a seriously wounded hen that had chosen to nest along the same chain-link fence.
Fortunately, we happened to have overdue eggs in the incubator and one Spanish black poult had hatched the previous evening.
So the plan was as follows:
Slip the new poult under the hen; give the mother and baby about six hours to bond, then return before sundown and collect the hen, poult and all of her eggs. The hen and poult would go in a secure pen and the eggs placed in the incubator.
This placing of a strange baby in the nest we had done often, with great success- the key to the success being giving the hen enough time to bond to the little turkey. Generally 1-3 hours is not enough time, but erring on the side of caution, we had never allowed a placed baby to remain overnight.
As a general rule, as soon as we discover any hen with babies, we scoop her and the babies off the nest and place them in a secure pen. The little turkeys make noise at night and just call in the predators. And at least one the reason why so many predator attacks occurred on day 27 & 28.
Of course something went wrong or I would not be writing this story…..
I took the poult from the incubator, noted one more had hatched and several more eggs were pipped. Returning to the road side nest I quickly slipped the baby turkey under its “new” mother. Since I was there, I grabbed a few eggs, marked them with colored tape and placed them in the incubator. I marked the calendar for 28 days, not knowing if they would hatch tomorrow or in a month.
Later in the day - time to retrieve the hen and baby, I slipped on a heavy sweatshirt and carried a bucket, archery guard, leather glove to the nest site.
This year I had added the sweat shirt to “Turkey moving” because the hens had been poking holes in my shirt with their dinosaur like feet.
All went well until….
So I donned the archery guard and glove and began to grab eggs from under the hen and place them in the bucket. (Note: the hens will sit and guard their babies instead of fleeing, allowing me to grab babies and then mom.)
Normally I always grab the babies first; and return later for the eggs; incidentally by returning 5-10 minutes later, I have just performed the first ‘cold test’ on the eggs. The liquid eggs will turn cold to the touch in that short of time, pinpointing which eggs require immediate burial.
Note: the poults are grabbed first, because the older one could sprint into the adjoining weeds. And the babies are always shielded by my wrist when pulling them from under the mother because the hen will be pecking at the intruding hand.
However in this turkey relocation, I knew there was only one poult and that it was new and not very mobile, however I could not find the little black turkey. The hen was pecking at my wrist guard as I collected the remaining eggs. Finally I had collected all the eggs and was actually making the hissing hen stand up when I spied the baby turkey, straddling the chain link fence.
I made a grab for the poult and it stepped through the chain link wire and was on the other side.
A few choice words were uttered and I quickly grabbed the mother hen, pinning her wings to her side as I watched the poult disappear in to the tall weeds of a five acre field.
Okay, similar “escapes” have happened in the past. Never with a chain link fence in my way.
Note: normally when I move a hen a poults I will survey the area for worst case scenarios (as just happened). Even go as far as placing low barricades to block escape routes.
As a rule, day old poults will not run, but any that are over one day might flee from the noise the hen makes at my intrusion to her nest.
Sweating in my heavy shirt I left the eggs in the bucket and carried the distraught hen though the neighbors gate and into the large field. Perfect rattle snake country I thought glumly as I pushed my way though tall weeds to where my bucket sat on the other side of the fence.
For the next 15 minutes I carried the protesting hen in a futile search for her baby. At length I gave up and carried the hen and eggs back home. I went straight to the incubator, grabbed up another poult and placed both hen and baby in a secure pen. In only a few moments the hen settled down with her new baby.
After placing the recovered eggs in the incubator I returned to the chain link fence and started my search anew for the little Spanish black turkey.
On the rare occasions when the baby turkeys have escaped me, I could always return to the area and hear the plaintive “lost turkey call” from the little poults. In only a few moments I could scoop them up and take them to “mom”.
In this instance however, the little black turkey refused to call for its mom. My guess was the baby turkey had never formed a connection to the hen and simply refused to call out to her.
I surveyed the five acre field, knowing if the bird panicked, it could be anywhere. I returned home empty handed.
And the miracle……
I explained to my wife that the little black turkey had escaped into the field. There were a few choice words in my direction and we returned to the nest site.
Still silence from the baby turkey. My wife went into the field on the other side of the fence and I stayed near the nest site looking and listening.
After a few minutes of searching, my wife began making gentle “peep-peep” noises.
Personally I was extremely skeptical of her noise making but then the baby turkey answered my wife!
She kept up the “peep-peeping” and occasionally the poult responded and in few minutes we were able to locate the baby turkey.
“A turkey whisperer” I said in admiration.
On the way home my wife explained that every day the eggs while the eggs were in the incubator she would talk to the eggs. And often repeat the gentle “peep-peep” noise to eggs.
I have read that the bonding process between turkey hen and poult actually begins before the eggs hatch, and in this example the un-hatched poults bonded to my wife and consequently saved the life of the baby turkey.
So, talk to those eggs!
Spanish black baby taken from incubator and placed under new mom
More stories to come......