If you live in the Texas Hill Country, I am sure that you have seen Wild Turkey hens wandering around alone during the days in early spring. After spending about eight months of the year in flocks, the hens strike out on their own to find hiding niches to establish their nests, lay clutches of eggs and incubate the eggs. After the poults hatch, a hen’s mothering instincts take over to protect her young to the time the youngsters can survive on their own. During the fall and winter months the hens and young males, called jakes, usually have roosting sites along a stream where they congregate to spend the night. Roosting sites may have several hundred birds, including the older “toms.” During the day the toms tend to hang out together, but as spring approaches they will join the hens to compete for breeding rights. As breeding time approaches, the toms’ heads turn bright blue and red as their wattles swell to get the attention of the hens. They spend their time strutting and gobbling to demonstrate the superiority of their genes. Once the hen has been bred, she strikes out on her own to select an area where there is sufficient ground cover to hide her nest. The selected site may be in a patch of tall grass, a thicket of shrubs or a brush pile. She does not bring material to the nest site, but scratches out a shallow indention, called a scrape, in the ground or leaves that will hold up to a dozen or more eggs. Interestingly, freshly laid eggs have no scent, so it is difficult for predators to find the nest. After the nest site has been selected and prepped, the hen lays her first egg. For the next two weeks or so, she will return to the nest and repeat the laying process each day until she completes her task. I find it interesting that apparently she knows when she has laid her last egg and the incubation process can begin. Over the two week period of egg laying, the hen must leave the nest and spend the day by looking for insects and seed that will give her some fat to sustain her for the 28 days of incubation. For four weeks the hen spends her time hiding in her nest from predators, including snakes, birds, and mammals who would enjoy devouring her eggs. After quietly and patiently waiting for time to pass, the time comes for the poults to hatch. After the last poult frees itself from the egg shell, the hen’s first act is to take the poults to a source of water for them to get their digestive systems working. The newly hatched youngsters are ambulatory and are able to follow their mother immediately after hatching. The baby turkeys require about two weeks to develop enough feathers to fly short distances. Until they can fly, the young have to hide when danger appears. The hen will instinctively try to lead the predator away from her poults by feigning injury or employing other forms of distraction. At night the babies will settle under her wings and tail to keep warm and out of the elements. She has to teach her offspring what to eat as she keeps an eye on her surroundings should a possible predator appear.A hen has to be lucky to raise all of her poults to adults. Some are going to end up as part of the food chain for various predators, but with luck she may raise half of her young to adults, and even some of these birds will be picked off by hawks, foxes, and raccoons. Keep in mind a number of nests are destroyed by predators and weather before the eggs are hatched. In nature’s system the law of averages regarding survival will allow enough birds to survive to keep their numbers strong. If by chance you flush a turkey hen while hiking, mowing, or using any mobile equipment, quickly leave the area and do not return until she has completed her incubation process. Turkeys are very skittish about being discovered, and often will abandon their nests. If you think about her task when she decides to leave the flock to raise her family, you will realize how perilous life will be for her. Often two or more hens and their poults will join up in small flocks, including hens that may have lost their entire nests. Give the turkey hens the space they need to accomplish their mission and then enjoy the fruits of their labor.