Ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata)
|Size||Male weight: 5 – 5.4 kg (2)|
Female weight: 2.7 - 3.6 kg (2)
Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES in Guatemala (3).
The ocellated turkey is a conspicuous, vibrant-coloured bird that can be easily distinguished from the only other turkey species, its larger and less colourful North American cousin, the North American wild turkey (Maleagris gallopavo). The body plumage of both males and females is a striking mix of iridescent bronze and green colour, although females often appear duller than males, with a greener rather than bronze tinge (2). Both sexes have bluish-grey tails feathers with a distinctive, blue-bronze coloured ocellus (eye-shaped spot) near the end, from which the species derives its common name, followed by a bright gold tip (2) (4). The brilliant blue head and neck of both sexes feature distinctive orange to red, warty, caruncle-like growths, called nodules, although these are more pronounced on males. Males also possess a fleshy blue crown adorned with yellow-orange nodules, which become more prominent during the breeding season (2). During this time an eye-ring of bright red skin also becomes especially visible on adult males (2) (4). The deep red, short, thin legs and feet of males sport impressive spurs, which are much longer than those of the North American wild turkey (2).
The ocellated turkey’s range extends over 50,000 miles in Central America, and includes south-east Mexico (Yucatán peninsula), north Guatemala (north Petén) and north-west and west-central Belize (4) (5).
This bird most commonly occurs in tropical deciduous and lowland evergreen forests and clearings such as abandoned farm plots (4). Although found in non-flooded mature forest during much of the year, this turkey is also found in seasonally flooded habitat and open areas, which are especially important during the breeding season (5).
During the breeding season in spring, ocellated turkeys are more commonly seen in clearings and roadways where male gobbling and strutting behaviour intensifies to attract the females. Most mating takes place from late March to mid-April and the majority of chicks are hatched by mid-June. The average clutch size is 12 eggs, but not all chicks will survive, with many predated by gray foxes, raccoons, cougars, jaguars, and numerous birds of prey and snakes, which may also prey upon adults (2).
Ocellated turkeys have an extremely generalist diet, eating a wide variety of plant materials from leaves to seeds, nuts and berries, as well as insects such as ants, moths and beetles (4) (6). However, chicks appear to feed exclusively on insects for the first month or so of life (7).
This turkey is heavily hunted for food across its range, even within reserves, and also occasionally for sport (5). Much of this hunting occurs during the breeding season in March, April and May, when the bird favours more open, exposed clearings for its displays, making it more easily accessible to poachers (2). Unfortunately, when females are killed at this time, there is a knock on impact on the survival of their chicks. Large-scale timbering operations, clear-cutting, and conversion to agricultural land has destroyed and fragmented much of this bird’s habitat, and thereby also increased its vulnerability to hunting (4) (5). The alarming rate of forest destruction in Central America poses a significant threat to the long-term survival of this beautiful bird (4).
The ocellated turkey is found in a number of ‘protected areas’ although these do not always provide safe refuge from poachers (5). It has been argued, however, that appropriately managed sport hunting, advertised at a high price to foreign countries, may be an effective conservation measure by bolstering the economy of many small villagers, reducing the pressure for locals to hunt the turkey for subsistence and commercial purposes. The idea is to demonstrate that the ocellated turkey is much more valuable through carefully regulated sport hunting than through unrestricted, and unsustainable, subsistence hunting. Currently only limited sport-hunting opportunities are available to non-residents in Mexico and Guatemala (2).
For more information on the ocellated turkey see:
Taylor, C.I., Quigley, H.B. & Gonzales, M.J. Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata). National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Wildlife Bulletin, 6: 1- 8. Available at:
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The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF):
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- BirdLife International:
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- Gobbling: the guttural, chortling sound of a male turkey.
IUCN Red List (July, 2014)