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Meleagris ocellata

Ocellated Turkey

  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Phasianidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: McRoberts, Jon T., T. Rich, C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi



A large, colorful gamebird with iridescent plumage of blue, green, and bronze and a featherless powder-blue head speckled with red and orange fleshy nodules. Males possess a unique cap-like crown that enlarges during breeding season. The tarsus is deep red; the males also have long, slender spurs that may be in excess of 5 cm with a sharp tip, a feature lacking in females. Beards are absent in both sexes. Wing feathers barred black-and-white with the wing coverts a rich bronze color. Tail feathers a finely barred gray-brown-black ending with a distinctive eye-spot pattern of blue encircled by black with a gold tip. Differentiation between sexes less obvious than Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in field conditions due to similar plumage and absence of beards. The remaining body structure is similar to that of Wild Turkey, although approximately half the size.


Similar Species

The Ocellated Turkey is closely similar to the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). The distributions of these two species are allopatric, but domestic Wild Turkeys are found within the range of Ocellated Turkey. Among other differences between the two species, the plumage of Ocellated Turkey is generally brighter and more blue green than the plumage of Wild Turkey; Ocellated Turkey has a blue (not red) dewlap, and lacks the beard of Wild Turkey; and rectrices of Ocellated Turkey have large, subterminal blue spots (“ocelli”), a feature not shared with Wild Turkey.



The most distinct vocalization is the song of the male marking the reproductive season, often called “singing” as opposed to “gobbling” of the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). The distinctive song is preempted by 3-7 deep drumming sounds followed by a unique trill conducted with the head and neck in a vertical position. Leopold (1959) phonetically describes the vocalization as, “ting-ting-ting—co-on-cot-zitl-glung,” illustrating the difficulty of describing the call in words. This vocalization is only made by males and takes place from the ground and roost trees during the breeding season. When singing, males extend head and neck straight up into the air. The singing is heard most frequently in the early morning (Gonzalez et al. 1996). Steadman et al. (1979) estimated that the singing vocalization could be heard from a distance of 500 m.

Steadman et al. (1979) identified five additional vocalization made by Ocellated Turkeys:

Put: A short, low, nasal call, the put given by males and females used as an alarm call or to locate other turkeys. Puts were given at frequencies ranging from 6-30 per minute. Steadman et al. (1979) also noted that birds occasionally emitted this call once while on the roost.

Whistle: A high call of approximately 0.5 seconds given by females and yearling males. Vocalization observed frequently in forest habitats and presumably used as a locator call.

Beep: Resembling the call of the American Woodcock (Philohela minor); function unknown.

Hee-haw: A nasal call of two notes.

Canada goose call: A highly pitched yell that may decrease in pitch at the end of the vocalization and is similar to the call of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis).

Taylor et al. (2009) reports that Ocellated Turkeys are not as vocal as Wild Turkeys and suggests that this may be a predator avoidance strategy. The majority of calling takes place from the ground. Males will also frequently sing from the roost during the reproductive season.

Nonvocal Sounds

Males rattle pinions against the ground during reproductive displays. Audible wing-flapping accompanies flight in a manner similar to many gallinaceous birds.

Detailed Description (appearance)

Feathers are of iridescent green, bronze, blue, and black. Breast feathers possess a narrow band of gold. Tail feathers have distinguishing eye-spot, leading to the species designation of ocellata, from the Latin root oculus for “eye.” Primary flight feathers have black and white barring; secondaries contain more white coloration; wing coverts of bronze. Distinction between the sexes is not as clear as Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) although female plumage is less brilliantly colored. A distinctly keeled chest is present in adult males.

Most notable difference between adults and juveniles is the bronze barring of wing coverts which is narrower in juveniles than that found in adults. Some residual feathers may remain on the head of juvenile turkeys.

Bare Parts

Head and upper neck featherless of powder-blue color dotted with orange-red nodules. Nodules become a deeper red nearer to the body and are more prominent in males. A snood is present as well as a conical crown on the head of males that becomes erect during the spring reproductive season. A ring of red-colored skin surrounds the eye. The beak is of black color near the head then becoming whitish-pink; approximately 4 cm in adults. Tarsus and toes also bare and of reddish color. Spurs, a feature only present in males, are onyx, slender and sharp and may exceed 5 cm.


The weight of an adult male is approximately 4–5 kg (Leopold 1948, Lint 1977) and an adult female is slightly smaller at 3–4 kg (Lint 1977, Gonzalez et al. 1996). Lint (1977) reports adult males are 100 cm in length and adult females are 81 cm in length. Gonzalez et al. (1996) reports an average tarsus length of 12.3 cm for females (n=8) and 15.4 cm for one male and Ridgway and Friedman (1946) report an average tarsus length of 11.3 cm for females (n=6) and 13.6 cm for males (n=8). Additionally, Ridgway and Friedman (1946) report an average tail length of 32.8 cm for males (n=8) and 26.3 cm for females (n=6) and an average wing length of 38.9 cm for males (n=8) and 34.0 for females (n=6).


The molt in juvenile birds is nearly complete at four to six months of age (Steadman et al. 1979).

Geographic Variation

No documented geographic variation.


The species was first described as Meleagris ocellata by Cuvier in 1820. Chapman (1896) presented the monotypic genus Agriocharis and the species was recognized as Agriocharis ocellata until a review of the osteology, paleontology and natural history by Steadman (1980) returned the species to the genus Meleagris. The Ocellated Turkey has been recognized by the American Ornithologists’ Union as Meleagris ocellata since 1998.

Recommended Citation

McRoberts, Jon T., T. Rich, C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi. 2012. Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: