The SCDNR is frequently contacted concerning wild turkey nests that appear to be abandoned, resulting in concern for the welfare of the nest and eggs. Some people have the desire to take the eggs and attempt to hatch them, however, it is against the law to rob any wild turkey nests or to possess wild turkey eggs.
In South Carolina, nesting by wild turkeys typically begins in mid-April and continues through May, with most poults hatching by mid-June. Farmers who are cutting and baling hay are likely to see the nests/eggs as turkeys nest around the same time. Although hens are occasionally killed by the equipment, many times they are flushed from the nest and do not return because there is no cover left in the field once hay is cut.
Hens also continue to roost in trees as normal while laying and do not begin continuous incubation until all egg laying is complete. That being the case, finding an unattended turkey nest is not uncommon. Concern for the welfare of the nest and eggs leads individuals to take the eggs and attempt to care for them.
Laws prohibiting robbing turkey nests and possessing eggs are in place for a good reason. Wild turkeys hatched by humans lose virtually all the instincts that allow them to survive in the wild. Additionally, many attempts to hatch eggs are for the purpose of raising the birds to be released to increase local turkey populations.
However, not only do these pen-raised turkeys have poor survival, they often commingled with other domestic fowl which may harbor diseases that could be detrimental to wild turkeys in the area if the pen-raised birds escape or are released.
State law also prohibits the release of pen-raised turkeys into the wild. Purchasing wild strain turkeys that are for sale by poultry hatcheries is also illegal since it is unlawful to import any wild turkey into the state.
SCDNR has contacted many of these hatcheries and asked them to place South Carolina on the “no ship to” list in their advertisements. South Carolina is noted for having the purest strain of Eastern wild turkeys and this importation restriction is in place to protect the genetic integrity of our native birds, in addition to guarding against diseases that may be associated with hatchery birds.
This importation restriction only pertains to wild turkeys or birds advertised as being from wild stock and not to domestic varieties of turkeys like the Bronze, Bourbon Red and Narragansett.
There are approximately 50,000 spring turkey hunters in South Carolina and turkey hunting contributes approximately $40 million annually to the state’s economy.