There are only two species of turkey in the world; the North American wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), divided into five distinct subspecies, and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata). The ocellated turkey is known by several different names that vary by Central American locale: pavo, pavo ocelado, or its Mayan Indian name, ucutz il chican. Very little research has been done on the ocellated and less is known about the ecology of this turkey than any of the five subspecies of North American wild turkeys, including the Gould's. The National Wild Turkey Federation, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Hornocker Wildlife Institute, helped sponsor the first research project to trap and place radio transmitters on ocellated turkeys in Guatemala in 1993. Much of the information provided in this bulletin is a result of this NWTF-sponsored study.
The ocellated turkey exists only in a 50,000 square mile area comprised of the Yucatan Peninsula range includes the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan, as well as parts of southern Tabasco and northeastern Chiapas.
The ocellated turkey is easily distinguished from its North American cousin in appearance. 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.
Tail feathers in both sexes are bluish-gray in color with a well defined, eye-shaped, blue-bronze colored spot near the end followed by bright gold tip. The tail feather spots are similar to those seen on peacock feathers which led some scientists to once believe the ocellated was more related to peafowl than turkeys. In fact, these spots helped give the ocellated its name, as the Latin word for eye is oculus.
The upper, major secondary wing coverts, or wing bar, are a rich copper color and highly iridescent. The barring on primary and secondary wing feathers is similar to North American turkeys, but the secondaries contain more white coloration, especially on the outer edges.
Both sexes have a blue-colored head and neck with distinctive orange to red, warty, caruncle-like growths, called nodules, but they are more pronounced on males. The head of the male also has a fleshy blue crown behind the snood which is adorned with yellow-orange nodules similar to those on the neck. During breeding season, this crown enlarges and the coloration of the nodules becomes more pronounced. Ocellated turkeys also have a distinct eye-ring of bright red colored skin, especially visible on adult males during the breeding season.
Legs of ocellated turkeys are shorter and thinner than North American wild turkeys and are deep red in color. Legs of adult males also have pronounced spurs; longer and more attenuated than those of North American gobblers. Spur lengths in males over 1 year old average at least 1.5 inches. Spurs longer than two inches have been recorded.
Ocellated turkeys are significantly smaller than any of the five subspecies of North American wild turkeys. Adult hens weigh approximately 8 pounds just prior to egg-laying and nesting and about 6-7 pounds the remainder of the year. During the breeding season adult males weigh approximately 11-12 pounds.