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What is an Ocellated Turkey?

By Anna Harrison
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The ocellated turkey, or Meleagris ocellata, is one of just two species of wild turkeys in existence. It looks much like its cousin, the North American turkey, but it is smaller and more brightly colored, with peacocklike tail feathers. The Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, and parts of Guatemala are the only parts of the world where this turkey lives.

These birds have bluish-gray heads and throats with red nodules and bright red legs and feet. Their feathers shimmer in shades of green and copper or bronze. Males and females can be hard to tell apart, because the male birds are beardless. Females do tend to be slightly paler. They otherwise differ only in that the male has a blue crest on its head that gets larger and more noticeable during mating season. The male ocellated turkey also has long spurs on his legs, the length of which helps to determine the bird's age.

During its mating season, the male turkey struts to attract a female. He shakes his tail feathers to and fro, and then spreads them out in the familiar fan. One of his wings is shaken rapidly as hens come closer to him, and he gobbles while he continues to attempt to attract a mate. Hens lay their eggs, usually about a dozen in all, throughout spring with hatching in early summer. Only 13 percent of the poults that hatch in early summer will survive until fall.

The ocellated turkey has a wide range of surroundings, living everywhere from underbrush and fields to rain forests, where they feed on wild grasses, seeds, fruits and various insects. All of these areas have many predators that hunt and kill the turkeys and their young. Predators of wild turkeys include raccoons, foxes and large cats; in the ocellated turkey’s habitat, there also are snakes and coati that threaten their survival.

Ocellated turkeys have a very unusual call, which is difficult to describe. It is quite unlike the gobble of the North American turkey and sounds somewhat drumlike. They also can make many different clucking, whistling and gobbling sounds. The birds tend to make clucking sounds when they are startled or threatened.

Slash-and-burn agriculture and logging both pose a huge threat to the survival of the ocellated turkey, because it destroys their natural territories in the process of creating farmland. Turkey hunting in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula also poses a hazard to the continued existence of the ocellated turkey. Sport hunting is promoted in some parts of Mexico for the tourism-related economic benefits it brings to the area as hunters travel from other parts of the world to hunt the ocellated turkey.

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