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Ocellated Turkey: Range and Habitat

A relative of the wild turkey, the ocellated turkey has more elaborate and colorful markings, and is also far less common. But where do ocellated turkeys live, and can you see them in the U.S.? If you’d like to find out more about the natural habitat of these unforgettable jungle wildfowl, please read on.

The distribution range of ocellated turkeys is limited to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and small areas of Belize and Guatemala. A near-threatened species, the wild population is estimated at no more than 49,000, with habitat loss of Mexican forests leading to a steep decline in numbers.

Dense forests are preferred, with thick foliage offering protected foraging and roosting spots. The species is targeted by predators, both human and animal, and numbers have fallen by up to 50 percent in the last century.

With the loss of natural habitat, and increased unsustainable farming on lands surrounding any remaining forests, it’s likely that a further decline may be experienced.

To learn more about exactly where ocellated turkeys live, and where you may stand a chance of a rare sighting, then please carry on reading, as we’ll be discussing habitats, roosting and factors that may affect the long-term survival of the species.

Ocellated turkeys have a limited range to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and small areas of Belize and Guatemala

Ocellated turkeys have a limited range to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and small areas of Belize and Guatemala

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What is the distribution range of Ocellated Turkeys?

Wild ocellated turkeys are limited to a specific region of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, with an area of around 130,000 km2 (50,000 sq mi), with the species’ range extending into western Belize and northern Guatemala.

Although related to the more common and widespread wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), which is widespread throughout the United States, no wild populations of ocellated turkeys live in the U.S. or Canada.

What is the habitat of an Ocellated Turkey?

Typical habitats preferred by ocellated turkeys include both the interior and the edges of mature and second-growth forests. They spend much of their lives out of sight, using the dense foliage as camouflage.

However, during the mating season, open fields are favored, with pastureland giving males the necessary space to display their eye-catching plumage.

Habitat loss is a major cause for concern for the survival of ocellated turkeys, with destruction of forested land leading to a decline in breeding and roosting sites.

Land cleared for agriculture, but surrounded by dense jungle suits the needs of ocellated turkeys on two levels, supplying them with feeding opportunities as well as safe roosting spots.

Ocellated turkey in its natural habitat, Tikal, Guatemala

Ocellated turkey in its natural habitat, Tikal, Guatemala

How rare is it to see an Ocellated Turkey?

Ocellated turkeys are considered a near-threatened species by IUCN, with estimates of up to 50 percent of the population being lost during the last 100 years.

As their range is already so limited and habitat across this breeding range is being lost to deforestation and changes to land use, total population numbers are now estimated to be between 20,000 and 49,000 mature birds.

Even within their home range, ocellated turkeys usually prefer to remain as hidden as possible among the dense forest undergrowth, so spotting one in the wild would be a rare event.

Small numbers of ocellated turkeys have made themselves at home around certain tourist sights among the Mayan ruins, and these would be far less tricky to catch a glimpse of, and even at a far closer range than in their natural deep-forest habitats.

Ocellated turkey foraging in the wild

Ocellated turkey foraging in the wild

Where is the best place to see Ocellated Turkeys?

As the range of ocellated turkeys is so small and their numbers are in decline, it is only likely that you’ll be able to spot one in its natural habitat in the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatán, Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

A number of ocellated turkeys are known to live in the areas around Mayan historical sites, including the ruins at Tikal (Tikal National Park) and Calakmul, and are regularly photographed by visitors. They have become relatively tame and tolerant of the presence of humans.

What time do Ocellated Turkeys come out?

Ocellated turkeys are notoriously early risers, and males announce the start of their day with a burst of song, particularly in the breeding season. These tuneful vocalizations, which consist of drumming and trilling notes, begin around 20 minutes before sunrise.

Close up of a Ocellated turkey preening its feathers

Close up of a Ocellated turkey preening its feathers

Do Ocellated Turkeys stay in one place?

Ocellated turkeys are not migratory, but may wander locally in search of safe roosting spots and foraging grounds. They are only capable of short bursts of flight, tending to spend much of their time running rather than flying.

Explosive and powerful flight will be used as a last resort, to escape predators, but generally ocellated turkeys do not travel far from their home range and any distances covered will usually be on foot.

Where do Ocellated Turkeys live in the winter?

Although ocellated turkeys are not a migratory species, they do wander in winter in search of food. Their natural diet may change slightly according to what is seasonally available, although there is an abundance of plant life, seeds, and insects available throughout the year.

Winters are spent in the same areas of the Yucatán Peninsula in which they breed, and they never stray outside of their natural range in this region.

Close up of an Ocellated turkey

Close up of an Ocellated turkey

How do Ocellated Turkeys survive winter?

The naturally tropical climate of their native habitat offers ocellated turkeys ideal year-round territories in which they continue to forage and roost once they have successfully raised their chicks.

Food, including seeds, roots, insects, flowers, nuts, and fruits, is available in every season. Roosting sites, in tall trees with branches between 5 m and 30 m (16 ft to 36 ft) off the ground, offer safe and sheltered overnight perches throughout both the winter and the summer.

Where do Ocellated Turkeys live in the summer?

Ocellated turkeys remain in their breeding range all year round, wandering locally between dense forests and more open pastures, dictated by the season. They feed on grasses, nuts, seeds, leaves, and insects, including beetles, moths and ants.

Wild Ocellated turkey in Tikal National Park, Guatemala

Wild Ocellated turkey in Tikal National Park, Guatemala

Do Ocellated Turkeys live in groups?

Ocellated turkeys live in family groups, foraging together by day and roosting communally each night. Ahead of the breeding season, groups typically consist of fewer birds – usually three lone male birds. Numbers increase after young have hatched, with mixed groups of around 8 or more birds.

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