Meleagris ocellataocellated turkey

Geographic Range

Ocellated turkeys are endemic to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, north Guatemala, and north-west and west-central Belize. (Baillie and Groombridge, 2004)


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. (Benstead and Capper, 2007; "Species profile - Ocellated Turkey", 2008; Taylor, et al., 2002)

Physical Description

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. ("Species profile - Ocellated Turkey", 2008; "Species profile - Ocellated Turkey", 2008; Taylor, et al., 2002)

  • Average mass
    males 4.5 and females 2.7 kg
  • Average length
    0.9 m
    2.95 ft


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. (Taylor, et al., 2002)

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. (Gaumer, 1881; Taylor, et al., 2002)

  • 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

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. (Gaumer, 1881)

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. (Sugihara and Heston, 1981)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence


There is no available information about lifespan in ocellated turkeys.


Ocellated turkeys are diurnal. They feed during the day and roost in trees at night. They are fast fliers and swift runners. Ocellated turkeys are social and are sometimes seen in large flocks. Gaumer (1881) once counted 62 turkeys roosting on three adjacent trees. Each flock appears to be led by an individual that is in control of the flock's movement. (Gaumer, 1881)

Flock size and composition seem to change with the time of year. Sugihara and Heston (1981) observed 3 birds to be the average flock size in January, with flocks consisting either solely of adult males or of yearling males and females along with adult females. Leopold (1948) noted that flocks ranged from 3 to 10 birds in November and consisted of hens and gobblers. Steadman et. al. (1979) observed that flocks in February through March averaged 11 individuals and were composed of hens and gobblers. By April, the average flock size went down to 3 individuals. This decrease in flock size was due to males leaving the flock to become solitary and attract females, and females leaving to start laying eggs. (Sugihara and Heston, 1981)

Home Range

There is no information at this time on average home range size in ocellated turkeys.

Communication and Perception

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. (Taylor, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

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. ("Species profile - Ocellated Turkey", 2008; Sugihara and Heston, 1981)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


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. (Gaumer, 1881; Taylor, et al., 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

Ocellated turkeys provide food for predators. Also, the turkeys' consumption of insects may help to control insect populations. (Taylor, et al., 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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. (Taylor, et al., 2002)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of ocellated turkeys on humans.

Conservation Status

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. (Benstead and Capper, 2007; "Species profile - Ocellated Turkey", 2008)

Other Comments

Meleagris ocellata is also sometimes known as Agriocharis ocellata. (Benstead and Capper, 2007)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Rachel McFalls (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Rainforest Alliance. 2008. "Species profile - Ocellated Turkey" (On-line). Rainforest Alliance Learning Site. Accessed April 16, 2008 at

Baillie, J., B. Groombridge. 2004. "Meleagris ocellata" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed April 16, 2008 at

Benstead, P., D. Capper. 2007. "Species factsheet: Meleagris ocellata " (On-line). BirdLife International. Accessed April 17, 2008 at

Gaumer, G. 1881. Notes on Meleagris ocellata, Cuvier. Transactions of the Annual Meetings of the Kansas Academy of Science, 8: 60-62.

Sugihara, G., K. Heston. 1981. Field Notes on Winter Flocks of the Ocellated Turkey (Agriocharis ocellata). The Auk, 98/2: 396-398.

Taylor, C., H. Quigley, M. Gonzalez. 2002. "Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)" (On-line pdf). National Wild Turkey Federation. Accessed April 18, 2008 at'ocellated%20turkey'.