Every once and a while we get a sobering reminder that the natural order can be harsh on nature’s creatures. We had such an experience this past weekend in our yard.
Saturday morning, our Labrador Retriever Sydney flushed a turkey from tall grass just a few yards across the drive and not more than 20 yards from the house. Turkeys on the home property are not an uncommon experience. In fact, just ten days before I had sent a hen turkey and her polts scurrying off through the grass when I came upon them in the field below from where this one was flushed.
I didn’t think much of it until. In the early afternoon, my wife and I were chatting by the garage when Sydney appeared. “What’s she got in her mouth?” asked Nancy. “Looks one of her toys.” I replied. A half hour later Nancy came to me and said, “Sydney has scattered egg shell all over the bedroom floor.” Then the light bulb went off. The turkey Sydney scared off was a nesting hen. Nancy showed me a large piece of shell, pale tan with splotches of faded brown. No doubt about it, Sydney had gotten hold of a turkey egg.
It didn’t take me long to find the nest. Following a path the dogs had made through the tall grass, I found it at the base of a half dead maple. In a small depression in the ground, filled with some dried grass, were two eggs. Seeing them, I felt a pang of anguished despair. “Now what?” I thought. Knowing Sydney had eaten one egg, there most likely at some point were more than it and the two remaining ones. Turkeys can lay a clutch of between four and seventeen eggs, according the Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds” page for turkeys. How many had the dogs gotten?
What could I do to protect these two survivors? Sydney and our two other dogs almost certainly would be after them. Fencing was not practical. It might deter the dogs, but it likely would make it nigh impossible for the hen to get to the nest. Keeping the dogs away from them was not a realistic option either. Turkey eggs are incubated for 25-to-30 days. We could keep an eye on the dogs while they were out, but every moment for several weeks?
Nancy and I concluded the eggs were laid recently and likely were still in the yolk stage. It was not like we were dealing with polts in some stage of advanced formation. Accepting the inevitable that the nest was doomed might be the best course. If - more likely when - the dogs got the last eggs, the hen would abandon the nest and leave the area, probably the best outcome for her too despite the nest’s loss. Why did she build so close to the house?
Over the next 24 hours, the hen returned to the nest a couple of times only to be scared off by the dogs. Inevitably, the last two eggs disappeared, and the hen did not return. We were saddened by the outcome. But we live out in the country. We get to savor so many of its engaging qualities, but along with the enjoyable comes the reality of the natural order. In this case, a turkey nest failure.
Turkey eggs in their nest