Neotropical Birds logo
Version 1.0

This is a historic version of this account.  Current version


Ocellated Turkey Meleagris ocellata

Jon T. McRoberts, Terrell D. Rich, Claudia I. Rodríguez-Flores, Carlos A. Soberanes-González, and Marîa del Coro Arizmendi
Version: 1.0 — Published May 4, 2012


Welcome to Birds of the World!

You are currently viewing one of the free accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of the World. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this account.

For complete access to all accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in


The Ocellated Turkey is a gregarious species. Basic locomotion differs little from Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). The species is well-capable of flight and will commonly take to wing having detected a disturbance source or predator. Flight alternates between rapid wing-beats and gliding.

The degree of wariness is variable and depends on conditioning. Steadman et al. (1979) reports birds in national parks becoming very tame, while Leopold (1948) reports their wilder counterparts will take wing when a source of disturbance is several hundred meters distant. When agitated, Ocellated Turkeys often partially fan their tail feathers and dorsally tilt the fan at a 30-45 degree angle while leaving the vicinity of the source of disturbance (J. McRoberts, personal observation).

Observations of foraging behavior indicate that Ocellated Turkeys alternate among food types during a feeding session, spending 30 seconds to one minute on an individual food type (Sugihara and Heston 1981). It has been suggested that alternating food types may dilute toxins that may be present in food sources (Sugihara and Heston 1981); however, this hypothesis has not been confirmed. Average feeding rates, measured by pecks per minute, for adult males of the same flock were found to be higher in January (11.2 pecks per minute; Sugihara and Heston 1981) than in April (4.3 pecks per minute; Steadman et al. 1979). Such a feeding pattern presumably indicates that males spend less time foraging during reproductive periods. Females are reported as feeding at a rate of 7.9 pecks per minute in April (Steadman et al. 1979).

An adult male turkey was observed actively foraging in an area with ground litter and was reported to scratch for food in a 1–2–1 pattern (i.e., scratch once with one foot, scratch twice with the other foot, scratch once more with the initial foot) and then search for food present (Steadman et al. 1979). All feeding takes place on the ground.

As nighttime approaches Ocellated Turkeys will select a horizontal limb to use as a roosting location. Birds appear to fly onto the roost soon after sunset and, unless disturbed, will remain on the limb until slightly before sunrise.

Preening and dust bathing are common and anting has been documented (Sugihara and Heston 1981) for self-maintenance. To regulate body temperature Ocellated Turkeys partially lift their wings to enable circulative cooling (J. McRoberts, personal observation). Temperature is also regulated by turkeys remaining stationary, or loafing, in shaded areas during the heat of the day and conducting foraging activities during early morning or late afternoon hours.


Documented existence or degree of territoriality is unknown. Males will actively compete for breeding opportunities and some level of territoriality is plausible. Males fight during the breeding periods (J. McRoberts, personal observation). The average home range size for females (n=9) in Tikal National Park, Guatemala was reported as 27.6 ha (Gonzalez et al. 1998).

Sexual Behavior

The reproductive behavior of Ocellated Turkey is distinct and includes vocal and visual signals. At the onset of a reproductive event, the male crouches on the ground in a partial strut with his head in a downward position (J. McRoberts, personal observation), a behavior apparently unique to the Ocellated Turkey and done in the presence of a female. The reproductive display continues with the male shaking his tail fan side-to-side several times before fanning the tail fan, dropping both wings, laying his head onto the back and pushing his chest forward, forming a distinct keel; the strutting position of an Ocellated Turkey. Strutting males follow and attempt to intercept females and rapidly shake alternating wings while the opposite wing remained rigid (Steadman et al. 1979, Eaton 1992) with wing feather pinions rattled over the ground (Lint 1977). Throughout this display males continue to sing and the head of the male remains its characteristic blue color, as opposed to the color change seen in the head of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) during strutting. The fleshy nodules on the head intensify in color, the crown atop the head becomes erect, and the snood more noticeable. Competition rituals for breeding among males of the same group were reported as two males walking parallel to each other with breasts lowered and then rapid vertical flight to 2 m, followed by more parallel walking until one of the birds retreats (Steadman et al. 1979).

Social and interspecific behavior

Flock size and composition is highly variable, ranging from pairs to flocks numbering several hundred individuals (J. McRoberts, personal observation). During the winter months mixed-sex and -age flocks occur with no segregation among the population (Leopold 1948). Winter flocks break apart in mid-March (Steadman et al. 1979). At the onset of the reproductive period, males may become solitary or remain in small groups with a dominant, breeding male. Flock size will continue to decrease as females leave singly to initiate nesting.


Turkeys are susceptible on the ground, roost, and nest to a large number of potential predators. Documented predators include ocelot (Felis pardalis), jaguarundi (F. yagouaroundi) (McRoberts, unpublished data), and snake (Gonzalez et al. 1996), although a number of other potential predators exist, such as gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteusi), margay (F. wiedii), raccoon (Procyon lotor), coati (Nasua nasua), tayra (Eira barbara), and perhaps even large cats such as puma (F. concolor) and jaguar (Panthera onca) (Gonzalez 1992). Shufeldt (1913) reported the killing and consumption of an Ocellated Turkey by a large hawk (species not reported); however, this turkey was recently captured and could have been susceptible due to capture-related stress or restricted in some manner. Gonzalez et al. (1998) also reported that 5 of 9 nesting females followed through two nesting seasons lost nests to predators.

Recommended Citation

McRoberts, J. T., T. D. Rich, C. I. Rodríguez-Flores, C. A. Soberanes-González, and M. d. C. Arizmendi (2012). Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.ocetur1.01