Ocellated turkeys are endemic to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, north Guatemala, and north-west and west-central Belize.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Ocellated turkeys are similar in appearance to North American wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), but are lighter in weight and more brilliantly colored. Males weigh about 4.5 kg and are roughly 0.9 m in length. Females weigh about 2.7 kg.
The body feathers of ocellated turkeys are an iridescent bronze-green color, with those of the male being brighter than the female. The tail feathers are bluish-gray with blue-bronze eye spots on the ends, which give this bird its name, as oculus is Latin for eye. The tail feathers also have a bright gold tip.
The skin of the head and neck lacks feathers, is bright blue, and is scattered with orange-red nodules or "warts". Around the eye is a bright red ring of skin. Males have a blue fleshy crown on their heads with yellow-orange warts. During the breeding season, the crown enlarges and the eye-ring and warts become more visible in males. Legs are a dark red color in both sexes, but adult males have spurs measuring around 3.8 cm in length.
Average mass: males 4.5 and females 2.7 kg.
Average length: 0.9 m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; male more colorful; ornamentation
Ocellated turkeys most frequently inhabit lowland evergreen and tropical deciduous forests. Clearings are utilized during the breeding season. Birds may also be found in such varied habitats as marshland, savannah, abandoned farmland, and old growth mature rainforest.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest
Habitat and Ecology
Ocellated turkeys are dietary generalists. Their omnivorous diet consists of various seeds, berries, and leaves, in addition to insects. They have been observed eating grass seed heads of Paspalum conjugatum, as well as the leaves of plants such as Ambrosia artimisiifolia, Vitis spp., Paspalum spp., and Zebrina spp. Insects consumed include moths, beetles, and leaf cutter ants (Atta cephalotes). These birds forage on the ground and tend to remain in small groups when feeding.
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
Ocellated turkeys provide food for predators. Also, the turkeys' consumption of insects may help to control insect populations.
Ocellated turkey adults and young are preyed on by gray foxes, margay cats, ocelots, raccoons, coatis, cougars, jaguarundi, jaguars, snakes, and birds of prey. Humans also hunt adult turkeys for food.
Ocellated turkeys run fast and fly well, which help them to escape predators. Both male and female adults make a loud cluck-putt alarm call, which warns others in the flock. Birds roost in trees where they are safe from ground predators.
- gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
- ocelots (Leopardus pardalis)
- jaguarundis (Puma yagouaroundi)
- margay cats (Leopardus wiedii)
- northern raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- white-nosed coatis (Nasua narica)
- cougars (Puma concolor)
- jaguars (Panthera onca)
- snakes (Serpentes)
- birds of prey (Falconiformes)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Life History and Behavior
Ocellated turkeys are not as vocal as North American turkeys, which may be due to the high number of predator species found in the forests of Central America. It may be in their best interest to be quiet birds that remain undetected. However, male turkeys do make low frequency drumming sounds, followed by a high-pitched gobbling noise. Gobbling and strutting are used by males in the breeding season to attract mates. Both males and females make a nasal cluck-putt location call, which can be made louder to sound alarm.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
There is no available information about lifespan in ocellated turkeys.
Ocellated turkeys breed seasonally. Starting the first week of February, males begin to change in appearance, with crowns becoming enlarged and skin warts becoming more pronounced and colorful. From February through April males gobble and strut to attract mates. Just before strutting, a male wags his tail feathers from side to side. During the strut he spreads the tail fan, holds his head and neck back over the body, drags both wings on the ground, and vibrates one wing. He struts and circles a hen until she either leaves or squats down for copulation. Males may also gobble during a strut.
These breeding displays occur in open areas in the early morning before sunrise. After the sun rises, the birds return to the forest where the temperature is cooler. Males continue to gobble in the forest, while sitting on the ground.
Mating System: polygynous
The breeding season of ocellated turkeys occurs once yearly, with most breeding occurring from late March to mid-April. Hens lay 8 to 16 eggs (average 12) any time between mid-March and mid-May. Most poults hatch by mid-June, but hatching can range from early May to July. A study in Tikal (1993) showed that each hen produced an average of six poults.
Breeding interval: Ocellated turkeys breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Most breeding happens from late March to mid-April.
Range eggs per season: 8 to 16.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
The female begins her parental investment with building a nest in which to lay her eggs. The nest is built within the cover of dense vegetation, to hide it from predators. A small cavity is made in the ground and a few sticks and leaves are placed in and around the hole. When the chicks hatch, the hen will boldly fight, even risking her own life, to defend the lives of her offspring.
It is not known whether males provide any parental care. Work done in 1979 by Sugihara and Heston suggests that ocellated turkeys have a similar social system to that of American wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), in which males do not generally provide parental care. Young turkeys are capable of walking and feeding soon after hatching.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Meleagris ocellata
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Relatively large populations of ocellated turkeys are found in protected areas of Belize, where this species is most common. However, in general, ocellated turkeys are rare and have been eliminated from some areas of Mexico, such as north Yucatan, west Campeche, northeast Chiapas, and east Tabasco. Survival rates for females and poults during the breeding season are a low 60-75% and 15%, respectively, in Tikal National Park in Guatemala.
Numbers are decreasing due to intense hunting for food and sport. Also, large-scale clear-cutting and slash and burn methods to make way for agriculture are destroying suitable habitat and making birds easier targets for hunting.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix iii
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
CITES Appendix III in Guatemala (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It is well protected in Tikal National Park, and a reserve has been created to protect this species in Petén (del Hoyo et al. 1994). There is also a sizeable contiguous block of private protected land in western Belize, including the 105,000 ha Rio Bravo conservation area and Gallon Jug/Chan Chich lodge lands, where the species is relatively common (Sharpe in litt. 2011).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to obtain a total population estimate. Monitor populations through regular surveys. Monitor hunting pressure. Record trade levels for this species. Track rates of habitat loss and degradation. Investigate the potential threat of chicken-born diseases. Discourage hunting through awareness campaigns. Increase the number of known sites that are protected.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of ocellated turkeys on humans.
Regulated sport hunting of ocellated turkeys and preservation of habitat can benefit the economy. Mexico has made hunting regulations in order to conserve this valuable resource, while also attracting hunters to come in from outside the area to help boost the economy of small villages. These turkeys provide a source of food for local people.
Positive Impacts: food
The ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is a species of turkey residing primarily in the Yucatán Peninsula. A relative of the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), it was sometimes previously treated in a genus of its own (Agriocharis), but the differences between the two turkeys are currently considered too small to justify generic segregation. It is a relatively large bird, at around 70–122 cm (28–48 in) long and an average weight of 3 kg (6.6 lbs) in females and 5 kg (11 lbs) in males.
The ocellated turkey lives only in a 130,000 km2 (50,000 sq mi) range in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico—which includes all or part the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatán, Tabasco, and Chiapas—as well as the northern parts of Belize and Guatemala.
The body feathers of both sexes are a mixture of bronze and green iridescent color. Although females can be duller with more green, the breast feathers do not generally differ and can not be used to determine sex. Neither sex possesses the beard typically found in wild turkeys. Tail feathers of both sexes are bluish-grey with an eye-shaped, blue-bronze spot near the end with a bright gold tip. The spots, or ocelli (located on the tail), for which the ocellated turkey is named, have been likened to the patterning typically found on peafowl. The upper, major secondary wing coverts are rich iridescent copper. The primary and secondary wing feathers have similar barring to that of North American turkeys, but the secondaries have more white, especially around the edges.
Both sexes have blue heads with some orange or red nodules, which are more pronounced on males. The males also have a fleshy blue crown covered with nodules, similar to those on the neck, behind the snood. During breeding season this crown swells up and becomes brighter and more pronounced in its yellow-orange color. The eye is surrounded by a ring of bright red skin, which is most visible on males during breeding season. The legs are deep red and are shorter and thinner than on North American turkeys. Males over one year old have spurs on the legs that average 4 cm (1.5 inches), which lengths of over 6 cm (2.5 inches) being recorded. These spurs are much longer and thinner than on North American turkeys.
Ocellated turkeys are much smaller than any of the subspecies of North American wild turkey, with adult hens weighing about 4 kg (8 pounds) before laying eggs and 3 kg (6–7 pounds) the rest of the year, and adult males weighing about 5–6 kg (11–15 pounds) during breeding season.
Turkeys spend most of the time on the ground and often prefer to run to escape danger through the day rather than fly, though they can fly swiftly and powerfully for short distances as the majority of birds in this order do in necessity. Roosting is usually high in trees away from night-hunting predators such as jaguars and usually in a family group.
Female ocellated turkeys lay 8–15 eggs in a well concealed nest on the ground. She incubates the eggs for 28 days. The young are precocial and able to leave the nest after one night. They then follow their mother until they reach young adulthood when they begin to range though often re-grouping to roost.
The voice is similar to the northern species: the male making the "gobbling" sound during the breeding season, while the female bird makes a "clucking" sound.
Branton and Berryhill (2007) have observed that the male ocellated turkey does not gobble per se like the wild turkey. Rather, his song is distinct and includes some six to seven bongo-like bass tones which quicken in both cadence and volume until a crescendo is reached whereupon the bird’s head is fully erect while he issues forth a rather high-pitched but melodious series of chops. The ocellated turkey will typically begin his singing 20 to 25 minutes before sunrise—similar to the wild turkey.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Meleagris ocellata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- James G. Dickson. The wild turkey: biology and management. National Wild Turkey Federation (U.S.), United States. Forest Service. Stackpole Books, 1992. ISBN 0-8117-1859-X
- Maurice & Robert Burton (2002). The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. 3rd edition. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, p. 2786. ISBN 0-7614-7274-6.
- Branton, Scott, and Ray Berryhill (2007). Pavo! Pavo! The Odyssey of Ocellated Turkey Hunting. Mississippi State, Miss.: Branton Berryhill Publishers.
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