Ocellated Turkey

Meleagris ocellata

Last updated: October 20, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Lev Frid/Shutterstock.com

These birds are timid and hard to spot, but their noisy gobbles give them away.

Ocellated Turkey Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Galliformes
Family
Phasianidae
Genus
Meleagris
Scientific Name
Meleagris ocellata

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Ocellated Turkey Conservation Status

Ocellated Turkey Locations

Ocellated Turkey Locations

Ocellated Turkey Facts

Prey
beetles, moths, ants, grains, seeds, nuts, and leaves
Name Of Young
Poults
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
These birds are timid and hard to spot, but their noisy gobbles give them away.
Estimated Population Size
20,000 to 50,000
Biggest Threat
hunting for sport and food, habitat fragmentation, and chicken-borne diseases
Most Distinctive Feature
Iridescent colors and spots (ocelli) on tail feathers
Distinctive Feature
Long, thin bone spurs
Wingspan
67 inches
Incubation Period
28 days
Age Of Independence
Two years
Age Of Fledgling
24 hours
Habitat
Tropical and evergreen forests
Predators
foxes, raccoons, ocelots, jaguars, snakes, and birds of prey
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Ocellated turkey
Location
North America, Central America
Nesting Location
On the ground covered by dense vegetation
Age of Molting
Two years

Ocellated Turkey Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Orange
  • Golden
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
4.5 years
Weight
6 to 11 pounds
Length
28 to 48 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
two years

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Its specific name, ocellata, refers to the spots, or ocelli, on their tail feathers.

Summary

The ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is endemic to the Yucatán Peninsula and parts of Belize and Guatemala. These birds are somewhat elusive and hard to catch, but they are noisy with distinctive gobbles. They live in tropical and evergreen forests, where they spend their days foraging for insects and vegetation on the ground or roosting in small family groups in trees. Discover everything there is to know about this turkey, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Ocellated Turkey Facts

  • The ocellated turkey voids predators by roosting in trees and concealing its nests on the ground.
  • Their coloring and unique patterns are similar to peafowl.
  • This turkey has long and thinner bone spurs than other North American species.
  • These birds are timid and hard to spot, but their noisy gobbles give them away.
  • This species is near threatened due to overhunting for sport and food.

Where to Find the Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated turkeys live in North and Central America in three countries: Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. It primarily inhabits 50,000 square miles of the Yucatán Peninsula but also has several large populations in Belize. Their preferred habitats include tropical deciduous and lowland evergreen forests. But you can also find them on abandoned farms and clearings. Look for them roosting in trees in small groups or foraging on the ground.

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Ocellated Turkey Nest

Their nest is a loosely constructed circle made of twigs, which they place directly on the ground in dense vegetation. They conceal their eggs to prevent nest predation.

Scientific Name

The ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is from the Galliformes order in the Phasianidae family, which encompasses heavy, ground-living birds like pheasants, chickens, and other turkeys. The Meleagris genus comprises the turkeys, large birds found in North America. Its specific name, ocellata, refers to the spots, or ocelli, on their tail feathers.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Ocellated Turkey
These birds are somewhat elusive and hard to catch, but they are noisy with distinctive gobbles.

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Articles Mentioning Ocellated Turkey

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The ocellated turkey is a relatively large bird and a relative of the North American wild turkey. However, it is much smaller than any North American wild turkey subspecies. This turkey measures 28 to 48 inches long and weighs 6 to 11 pounds, with a 67-inch wingspan. Their feathers are bronze and iridescent green, and their tails have spots called ocelli that resemble those found on peafowl. Females are a duller color with more green, but both sexes feature blue heads with orange and red nodules. During breeding, male crowns swell up and become a bright yellow/orange. This species lacks a beard typically found in turkeys, and their legs are short and thin with long bone spurs. 

These turkeys are shy and elusive but somewhat social, often found in small or large flocks. They also roost in small family groups. But their timid behavior doesn’t stop them from being noisy. The male’s gobble consists of low-frequency “thumps,” which increase into a gobble different from its North American cousins. And they begin their singing 20 minutes before sunrise, similar to other species. These birds spend much time on the ground, choosing to run instead of fly. However, they are swift, powerful fliers and can travel short distances. 

Migration Pattern and Timing

Ocellated turkeys are permanent residents in their environment and do not migrate.

Diet

Ocellated turkeys are omnivores who forage on the ground.

What Does the Ocellated Turkey Eat?

Their diet consists of beetles, moths, ants, grains, seeds, nuts, and leaves. These birds forage on the ground for low-lying vegetation and occasionally forage in small groups. They may also venture to feed areas near chickens. And male ocellated turkeys eat more before the breeding season begins. These birds look for food under the forest’s dense cover but may venture into clearings near farms to search for grain.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the ocellated turkey as NT or “near threatened.” This species is moderately declining due to habitat loss and hunting pressures. The ocellated turkey faces several threats, including hunting for sport and food, habitat fragmentation, and chicken-borne diseases. This bird may also suffer future effects of climate change, such as spring heat waves and wildfire destruction.

What Eats the Ocellated Turkey?

The primary threat to the ocellated turkey is humans, who hunt them for sport and food. Their natural predators include foxes, raccoons, ocelots, jaguars, snakes, and birds of prey. Due to their small size and propensity for living in dense forests near big cats, this turkey falls victim to many carnivores. It prefers to run instead of fly when escaping danger, and it may kick its legs, using its long, bony spurs to defend itself. They also roost in high trees, away from night predators.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Ocellated turkeys mate once a year from early February to late April, and males may mate with several females. The males engage in elaborate courting behavior, including dancing and vibrating their wings while dragging the tips along the ground. Females lay eight to fifteen eggs and incubate them for 28 days. The young are born in an advanced state and fledge the nest after 24 hours, but they follow their mother around until reaching young adulthood. They reach full adult plumage and sexual maturity around two years and live an average of 4.5 years. 

Population

The global ocellated turkey population is estimated to number 20,000 to 50,000 mature individuals. Their population is continuously declining due to exploitation and habitat destruction. The IUCN suspects a 20 to 29% decrease in their numbers over the last three generations.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Ocellated Turkey FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why are they called ocellated turkeys?

Its specific name, ocellata, refers to the spots, or ocelli, on their tail feathers.

Are there ocellated turkeys in the US?

Ocellated turkeys do not live in the US. They are endemic to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

What is the ocellated turkey's habitat?

Their preferred habitats include tropical deciduous and lowland evergreen forests. But you can also find them on abandoned farms and clearings.

What does an ocellated turkey sound like?

The male’s gobble consists of low-frequency “thumps,” which increase into a gobble different from its North American cousins.

Can ocellated turkeys fly?

These birds spend much time on the ground, choosing to run instead of fly. However, they are swift, powerful fliers and can travel short distances.

Do ocellated turkeys migrate?

Ocellated turkeys are permanent residents in their environment and do not migrate.

What does an ocellated turkey eat?

Their diet consists of beetles, moths, ants, grains, seeds, nuts, and leaves.

Are ocellated turkeys endangered?

The IUCN lists the ocellated turkey as NT or “near threatened.” This species is moderately declining due to habitat loss and hunting pressures.

What are ocellated turkey predators?

The primary threat to the ocellated turkey is humans, who hunt them for sport and food. Their natural predators include foxes, raccoons, ocelots, jaguars, snakes, and birds of prey.

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Sources
  1. Red List / BirdLife International, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22679529/178204994
  2. Tropical and Subtropical Agroecosystems, Available here: https://www.revista.ccba.uady.mx/ojs/index.php/TSA/article/view/3715

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