Turkey Talk: Gobble-gobble

The N. American Wild Turkey is represented in 6 different subspecies that inhabiting Mexico through America and into Canada. The 6 subspecies are: Eastern, range_map_tnail_wild_turkeyGould’s, Merriam’s, Osceola (Florida), Rio Grande and the Ocellated Wild Turkey. Does anybody know what the differences are between the 6 kinds of Turkeys? There are subtle differences in the coloration, habitat and behavior of the different subspecies of wild turkeys.


Let’s take a look at some of these differences in detail:


Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)Eastern Subspecies Turkey

Eastern Wild Turkeys can be found in the US from Maine to Northern Florida and as far west as Missouri. Eastern Wild Turkeys can also be found in Canada from South Eastern Manitoba, all of Ontario, Quebec and the maritime provinces. The Male Eastern wild turkey can reach up to 30 lb. in weight and stand up to 4ft tall.




Osceola Wild Turkey aka Florida Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo Osceola)Osceola Subspecies Turkey

They are often found in scrub patches of palmetto and occasionally near swamps, where amphibian prey is abundant. It’s similar to the Eastern Wild Turkey but is smaller and darker in color with less white veining in the wing quills. The white bars in these wing quill feathers are narrow, irregular, broken, but does not extend all the way to the feather shaft. The black bars predominate the feather. Secondary wing feathers are also dark. When the wings are folded on the back there are no whitish triangular patches as seen on the Eastern.




Rio Grande Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia)Rio Grande Wild Turkey

The Rio Grande Wild Turkey is native to the central plains states. The Rio Grande wild turkey is similar in general appearance to the other subspecies of wild turkey and similar in body size to the Florida turkey, about four feet tall, but with disproportionately long legs. They are distinguished from the Eastern and Florida subspecies by having tail feathers and tail/rump coverts tipped with yellowish-buff or tan color rather than medium or dark brown.




Merriam’s Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami)Merriams Wild Turkey

The Merriam’s Wild Turkey can be found primarily in the Ponderosa Pine and Western Mountain regions of the United States. You can find the Merriam’s Wild Turkey from the Rocky Mountains to Nebraska, Washington, California, and Oregon. The Merriam’s Wild Turkey is comparable in size to the Eastern Wild Turkey but with a darker appearance with blues, purples and bronze reflections. The Merriam’s Wild Turkey has a white rump. The male Merriam’s Wild Turkey has black-tipped breast feathers, while the hens have buffed-tipped breast feathers.


Gould’s Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana)Goulds Wild Turkey

The Gould’s Wild Turkey is found in portions of Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Northern Mexico. Gould’s Wild Turkey is like the Merriam’s Wild Turkey in as it can be found in the mountains. They have longer legs, larger feet and longer tail feathers. The main colors of the body feathers are copper and greenish-gold. This subspecies is heavily protected owing to its skittish nature and threatened status.




Ocellated Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo ocellata)ocellate turkey

The Ocellated Wild Turkey sometimes known as the South Mexican Wild Turkey can be easily distinguished by its feather colors. The body feathers of both male and female birds have a bronze-green iridescent color mixture, although females sometimes appear duller in color with more green than bronze pigments. Unlike North American turkeys, breast feathers of male and female ocellated turkeys do not differ and cannot be used to determine sex. Neither male nor female birds have a beard. It exists only in a 50,000 square mile area comprised of the Yucatan Peninsula range in the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan, as well as parts of southern Tabasco and Northeastern Chiapas. This wild turkey subspecies is thought to be critically endangered, as of 2010.


Turkey Feathers

An adult turkey has between 5,000 to 6,000 feathers that cover their body in patterns called feather tracts. Feathers provide a turkey with many functions. Feathers keep the turkey dry and warm, they provide feeling, give them the ability to fly, and help in mating. The heads and necks of a turkey are featherless. Most feathers on a turkey’s body exhibit iridescence with the male turkey having a more colorful body than the female turkey. The iridescence will have a variety of colors such as red, green, copper, bronze and gold. The female turkey will have less color and be a more light colored brown to blend in with her surroundings.


How to Spot the Gobbler

Two major characteristics distinguish the male from female turkeys: Spurs and beards. Soon after birth, a male’s spur starts growing pointing and curving and can grow to about two inches. Most hens’ spurs do not grow. The male turkey’s also have beards which are tufts of filaments or modified feathers, growing out from the chest. Beards can grow to an average of 9 inches (though they can grow much longer). A hunter can be tricked because 10 to 20 percent of hens have beards.


The Down and Dirty of Turkeys Getting Busyturkey_Sex

The North American Wild Turkey mating season arrives between February and April while courting can happen as early as in the winter when turkeys are flocking together. After mating, hens will find a nesting sight. The turkey’s nests can be found in a shallow dirt depression surrounded by moderately wooded vegetation. Hens can lay 10 to 12 eggs usually laying only one egg a day. The hen will incubate the eggs for 28 days occasionally turning and rearranging them until they hatch. A newly hatched flock will leave the nest within 12 to 24hrs of hatching to feed. Baby turkeys or poults eat insects, berries and seeds.


Where to Spot that Turkey

The best time to see turkeys are best on warm clear days or in a light rain. Turkeys usually feed in early morning and in the afternoon. Wild turkeys like open areas for feeding, mating and habitat. They use forested areas as cover from predators and for roosting in trees at night. A varied habitat of both open and covered area is essential for wild turkey survival.


Turkey Hunting Safety Tipsturkey_hunting_safety

1) Positively identify your target.

2) Wear at least 100 inches of orange on each side of your body.

3) Never stalk a turkey or turkey sound.

4) Sit with your back against a tree (no one likes bird shot in the butt!).

5) Don’t wear Red, White, or Blue when hunting (You look like a turkey).

6) Stick to your zone of fire!

7) Assume that every sound is a hunter.



Scoring a Turkey

Scoring The Turkey: (4 parts to scoring)

Part 1 – Weigh bird in pounds and ounces and convert ounces to decimal form.

Part 2 – Measure each spur. Add both spur measurements and multiply x 10. This is the # of points you receive for the turkeys spurs.

Part 3 – Measure the beard length and convert it to decimal form. Multiply the beard length x 2 = beard score.

Part 4 – Add together the weight, the points for spurs and points for beard(s): This is the score you receive for your turkey.


Turkey Facts and Myths

#1. Scattered gobblers won’t regroup for days [T or F]?

Answer = False Gobblers can regroup in as fast as 20 minutes, just depends.


#2. Fall gobblers don’t strut or gobble [T or F]?

Answer = False Not nearly as consistent as in the spring, but not uncommon either.


#3. Turkeys are territorial and will attack [T or F]?

Answer = True Turkeys (esp. Toms) can be very aggressive & will straight-out attack anything, including hunters. 


#4. Wild turkey populations can be re-established using pen-raised turkeys [T or F]?

Answer = False Pen-raised turkeys don’t have the proper survival skills to live in the wild.


#5. Gobblers will follow hens to the nest to destroy the eggs [T or F]?

Answer = False Gobblers do not follow hens to the nest.


Quick Fire Turkey Fact Time

Silver-phase turkeys are NOT a result of domestic turkeys joining a flock in the wild…they are wild birds.

Turkeys DO NOT eat quail and/or quail eggs.

Growing-season fire has a positive NOT negative impact on turkey populations.

Poults don’t die because they look up when it’s raining; they die because they don’t have fully dev’d feathers and they get cold.

As long as Turkeys can reach a food source turkeys can survive in deep snow.

A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20mph and can quickly fly at speeds up to 55mph.

The best time to see turkeys are best on warm clear days or in a light rain.

Young gobblers can be distinguished from adults from the longer middle tail feathers of the fan.

When scouting, if you come across turkey tracks that have a middle toe longer than 4 inches, it prob is a gobbler.


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Posted in: Gregory Beckman, Scrolls
Gregory Beckman

About the Author:

Hi, I am Gregory Beckman, as the main owner of Military Hunting and Fishing let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I am currently an active duty member in the United States Coast Guard. I have been privileged to traveling the world. My experiences have shaped the way that I see the world and my memories will stick with me for a lifetime. Although I may not live in the country, the country lives in me. Traveling the world I have had the chance to experience the wonders of nature in many different places, meeting many different people and tasting wild game that the normal person would not get to experience. Although these experiences have kept me away from home, it has instilled a deep passion of hunting and fishing in my blood. Thank you for joining our site, and I look forward to interacting and sharing stories of our hunting adventures. Gregory A. Beckman