Ocellated Turkey Fact File

Meleagris ocellata

Credit: Public Domain












Grass, Seeds, Insects

Conservation Status


Near Threatened

Turkey But Make it Pretty!

The ocellated turkey is the Central American cousin of the better known wild or domestic turkey found in North America and celebrated on Thanksgiving each year.

These animals are omnivores. They will feed on insects when they first hatch but as they age they begin to feed on grass and seeds.

Males will use their impressive tail feathers as part of displays to attract a female.

This species was previously listed as endangered but has been reduced to near threatened. They continue to face threats from habitat destruction and hunting for food or sport.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the Ocellated Turkey look like?

The male ocellated turkey has a bluish neck. Running across the back and on to the lower neck are glossy bronze or green feathers. They have whitish flight feathers. Their body ends with a broad tail that has blue and coppery patches.

On their head there are no feathers. The bare blue skin is visible. This is patterned with small, red warts known as nodules. Males typically have more of these warts. In the male a bright ring is present around the eye.

During the breeding season the males eye ring and warts becomes more prominent.

The female has a pinkish bill and overall duller plumage. Their eye is colored brown. The legs and feet are colored red. On the back of the males leg is a large spur.

An average male ocellated turkey will measure 102cm (40in) long compared to 84cm (33in) long for the females. Males weigh 5-6kg (11-13lbs) while females come in at 4kg (8.8lbs). They are at their heaviest in the breeding season.


How does the Ocellated Turkey survive in its habitat?

Males have broad tail feathers with a number of eye spots, ocelli, from which their name is taken. This is used to impress females in hopes of attracting a mate.

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What does the Ocellated Turkey eat?

Ocellated turkeys are omnivores which will feed on seeds, grass, berries and invertebrates.

Most of their food is found by scratching along the ground in leaf litter.

Learn more about the Ocellated Turkey in this video from American Bird Conservancy on YouTube


Where do you find the Ocellated Turkey?

Central America is the native home of the ocellated turkey. Here they can be found in the following countries - Belize; Guatemala and Mexico.


Where can the Ocellated Turkey survive?

These animals are found in forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland habitats. They may also be found in seasonally flooded forest and during breeding season will be found in open areas. They may also enter agricultural fields to feed on the crops.

Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)

Credit: Public Domain


How does the Ocellated Turkey produce its young?

Breeding starts in March followed by nesting in April. At the start of the breeding season the male will produce a gobbling noise to try and attract a mate. Much of their calling occurs at sunrise. The female will respond if she is receptive.

Males enter open areas to cool and they will return to the forest during the day to escape the heat.

Continuing his display when the female is present the male will fan out the feathers at the end of his body. He presses his head to his back and produces a low puff.

If the female is suitably impressed she will squat down so mating can begin.

Females will hide their nest among vegetation. Their nest is a simple, shallow scrape in the ground.

In to their nest the females will deposit between 8 and 15 eggs which are buff with brown markings across them. These eggs will incubate for 28 days. Females complete all the nesting duties.

Young are able to move around as soon as they hatch. At hatching the young exclusively feed on insects with plants becoming part of their diet around six weeks old. They will first fly between 2-3 weeks old.

It takes three years for the ocellated turkey to develop its adult plumage.


What does the Ocellated Turkey do during its day?

The ocellated turkey is a rare species which is rarely seen in the wild.

Ocellated turkeys will be seen moving around in a group. These are made up of a single male and a number of females.

Males produce the gobble used during mating while the female will make a clucking alarm call.

In flight this species is described as being clumsy and as a result they will mostly attempt to escape on foot if presented with a threat.

These birds are active during the day. At night they will find a tree in which they will roost.

Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)

Credit: Under License from JumpStory

Predators and Threats

What stops the Ocellated Turkey from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the ocellated turkey include wild cats such as ocelots, pumas and jaguars, coatis, racoons, snakes and birds of prey.

If a predator approaches they will make a loud clucking noise to alert other members of their flock to the presence and allow them to escape.

Populations of the ocellated turkey are declining in numbers with an estimated mature population of below 50,000 individuals.

These birds are threatened through hunting for food and trade. Some are also hunted for sport. Their habitat is being destroyed for agriculture which increases the susceptibility to hunting.

Where domestic poultry is being kept in their range there is a risk of disease transmission.

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Quick facts

In Spanish the species is known as 'pavo real' meaning royal turkey.

They are one of two turkey species with the other being the better known wild turkey from North America.

Ocellated turkeys were first described for modern science during 1820.

Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)

Credit: TonyCastro, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

McFalls, R. 2008. "Meleagris ocellata" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 16, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meleagris_ocellata/

Leber, J., 2022. The Wild Blue Turkey That Blew My Mind. [online] Audubon. Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/news/the-wild-blue-turkey-blew-my-mind> [Accessed 17 April 2022].

Miller, M., 2022. Meet the Ocellated Turkey. [online] Cool Green Science. Available at: <https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/11/25/meet-the-ocellated-turkey/> [Accessed 17 April 2022].

American Bird Conservancy. 2022. Ocellated Turkey. [online] Available at: <https://abcbirds.org/bird/ocellated-turkey/> [Accessed 17 April 2022].

Oiseaux-birds.com. 2022. Ocellated Turkey. [online] Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-ocellated-turkey.html> [Accessed 17 April 2022].

World Land Trust. 2022. Ocellated Turkey: Species in World Land Trust reserves. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldlandtrust.org/species/birds/ocellated-turkey/> [Accessed 17 April 2022].

BirdLife International. 2020. Meleagris ocellataThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22679529A178204994. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22679529A178204994.en. Accessed on 17 April 2022.

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