The Ocellated turkey, belonging to genus Meleagris, is a close relative of the Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). In 2002, this species was recognized as ‘endangered’ by Mexico. Even though they have bounced back from a threshold of extinction, yet their present population is concerning.
Species: M. ocellata
The scientific name for Ocellated turkey is Meleagris ocellata.
Adult specimens tend to be around 70 to 122 centimetres in length. Males weigh between 5 to 5.5 kilograms, while females weigh between 2.7 to 3.7 kilograms.
This species is more brilliantly colored compared to the Wild turkey. The plumage of the Ocellated turkey is a striking blend of iridescent bronzy-green, with the male being a little more vibrant compared to female. Their tail is bluish-grey with bluish-bronze spots (that look like eyes) near the end followed by the golden tip. Their head and neck are light-blue in color with bright orange warts scattered mostly on top of their fleshy head-crown. They possess a red featherless ring around their eyes. During mating season, the size of the crown expands and their warts become more visible among males. Their legs are dark reds, with adult males carrying 3.5 to 3.8 centimetres long spurs.
These species inhabit lowland evergreen and tropical deciduous forests; as well as clearings like abandoned farmlands. Even though they are mostly found in non-flooded forest lands for most of the year, yet at times, they can also be found in flooded regions, especially during mating seasons.
The Ocellated turkey native range is 130000 km2 in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula that includes whole or in parts the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. They are also found in northern Guatemala and in the western and northern part of Belize.
This is a diurnal species. They stay active during the day and roost at night. They are known to be swift runners and fliers. They are social birds and often can be seen in flocks. Researchers have also noted that each group has a leader that controls the movement of the group. The flock size and structural changes at different times of the year. Flocks can only consist of males or only females. Males often leave a group in order to look for females.
These species breed once a year. Breeding season starts in late March and goes on till mid-April. Courtship displays usually take place in open grounds, mostly in the early morning. Males strut and gobble in order to attract the female. Males are known to circle the hen till it either leaves or sits down for mating.
They make the breeding nest in dense vegetation. They make a small cavity on the ground and line it with leaves and sticks. Female (i.e. the hen) deposit 6 to 16 eggs. Incubation lasts for 28 days on average and is done by the female. It is not known whether male take part in parental care or not. Some researches suggest that the social system of this species is similar to that of the Meleagris gallopavo (in which males do not engage in parental care). Newly hatched juveniles, which are covered with reddish-brown plumage, are capable of feeding and walking on their own.
They mostly forage on the ground and also have a tendency to stay in small flocks when foraging. Most of their diet consists of different types of berries, nuts, seeds and leaves. They are also known to eat Paspalum conjugatum seed heads. They occasionally feed on insects including leafcutter ants, beetles and moths among others.
The lifespan of this species is not known. In fact, there is a lot of mixed information about the lifespan of its closely related Meleagris gallopavo, i.e. the Wild turkey.
Ocellated turkeys are less vocal than the Wild turkey. Males emit a low-frequency drumming calls followed by a high-pitched guzzling sound, usually during the breeding season. Both male and female produce a nasal alarm call.
Both adults and young ones are preyed upon by birds of prey, snakes, jaguars, cougars, jaguarundi, racoons, coatis, margay cats, ocelots and grey foxes among others.
Exposed clearings due to timbering operations are the biggest reason for its habitat loss in its native region. This bird is also occasionally hunted for sport and food, even within reserves.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Near Threatened’ category.
A 2011 research showed that the Ocellated turkey constitutes a great amount of diet of four ethnic groups in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Several conservation organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, are working in Yucatan Peninsula protected areas to save this bird.
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