Video: Hen Turkey Defends Her Nest from Raccoons

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Kentucky hunter Reese Johnson documented this nesting hen with multiple trail cameras. She fought off predators and ultimately hatched a brood of nine poults

There’s a lot of talk these days over nest predation of wild turkeys, particularly from raccoons, but evidence of it is difficult to capture firsthand, since most predation happens at night. Hens don’t stay on the nest 24/7, particularly in the early phases of incubation, but as the clutch gets closer to hatching, the hen is on the nest more often. And even in the face of a critter with teeth, in the dark, it’s surprising how fierce a hen turkey can be at defending her nest. 

This fascinating series of trail camera photos and videos proves it. Kentucky hunter Reese Johnson shared them with us. He found the nest near his house immediately following the Kentucky turkey season, which ended on May 8. “I have 10 acres, with small pastures on either side of the house,” Johnson says. On one side, Johnson has piled up brush that he's cleared in the field, around a lone oak tree, and he left an opening in the middle of the brush pile for hiding a pop-up ground blind during deer season. It's near his fence, and he mows a few passes next to that fence about one a month. That's how he found the nest. “I was mowing over there one afternoon, and I flushed her, right out of the brush pile," Johnson says. "I hopped off the mower, found the eggs, and immediately ran up to the shop to grab a couple trail cameras and cards.” 

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Johnson used T-posts to secure the cameras, but he was worried the disturbance had caused the hen to abandon the nest, since she didn't return right away. Finally, after two days gone, she came back. Johnson had one cellular camera and one standard trail camera documenting the nest.

“After about the 10th of May, she started sitting real hard, and I didn’t go down there," he says. "Right around the first of June, something — I’m assuming it was a raccoon — spun the cell camera around. So I couldn’t monitor things.”

After that, Johnson says he was itching to know if the eggs hatched, or if a raccoon had eaten all of them. But he didn't want to disturb anything, so he didn't go to check. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon (June 7), he saw the hen standing at his fenceline, pacing the area for a while before ducking out of sight. At that point, Johnson walked up to the nest, found eight or nine of the eggs hatched, and finally got to download the footage from the other trail camera. What it revealed was an amazing mix of the hen fighting off multiple raccoons during the night, an image of a coyote one night, and finally, the hatching brood on June 7. 

The hen is actually one of the few turkeys Johnson has ever seen in the area. “It’s not a good turkey spot,” he says. “One time I had three gobblers come through in February, but they disappeared. That's about all I've ever seen here. But I did notice last fall that I had a ton of raccoons showing up at the feeder I had out for deer, and so I decided to try some trapping.” 

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Using a mix of dog-proof traps and live traps, Johnson says he caught a mix of 30 raccoons and possums off the 10 acres over the winter, and as the footage proves, it still didn't get them all. You have to believe the trapping effort helped, though — that, and the resolve of one tough mama hen turkey.