The Four Subspecies of the Wild Turkey

Turkey Hunting - Helping you harvest that turkey of a lifetime

The Four Subspecies of the Wild Turkey



0:36 Announcer: Primos Hunting Calls presents Mastering the Art of Spring Turkey Hunting.

0:45 In the United States, there are four subspecies of the American wild turkey. There's the Eastern, the Merriam's, Rio Grande and the Osceola.

0:57 The Florida wild turkey, also known as the Osceola, is found only in the peninsula of south Florida. (turkey call)(turkey noises) Its name comes from the Seminole chief Osceola. The Osceola is similar to the Eastern turkey, but smaller and darker in color with very little white on the bars of its wing feathers. Like all turkeys, the feathers are iridescent, which means that as light hits the feathers, the feathers display a spectrum of rainbow like colors.

The Osceola's feathers show more of a green iridescence than the other subspecies of turkeys. Its colorations and size are suited for the flat, piney woods and oak and palmetto swamps which are common to south Florida.

The breeding cycle is slightly earlier than the other three subspecies of turkey. The Osceola gobbler may even start giving its mating call, the gobble, in earnest, as early as early January, which is several months before the actual mating begins.

2:13-2:25 (background music only)

2:26 The Rio Grande subspecies of turkey is native to the central Plains states. The Rio Grande got its name from where it's most commonly found- the dry and windy country of the southwest and Rio  Grande Valley. The Rio Grande, commonly referred to as the Rio, is similar to all the other subspecies except for the tail feathers. The tail feathers are tipped yellowish to tan in color, rather than dark brown in the case of the Osceolas or Easterns (turkey noises) and white in the Merriam's.

The Rio inhabits brushy areas near streams and rivers or mesquite flats and shaded oak motts. The Rio can be found in elevations as high as 6,000 feet and generally favors more open country than wooded. The Rio is also known to form very large flocks during the winter months that sometimes consist of several hundred turkeys. It has also been known to travel distances up to ten miles or more from its winter range to areas suitable for spring breeding and nesting. The adult Rio gobbler may weight 20 pounds or more at maturity while the hen averages 10-14 pounds. The hens are similar in color to the gobbler but are more tan colored on the tips.

3:53 The Merriam's is found primarily in the Ponderosa Pines and western mountain regions of the United States. It was named by Dr. E.W. Nelson in 1900 in honor of C. Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey.

4:10-4:12  (turkey noises)

4:15 Within its suspected historic range in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, the Merriam's were relatively isolated from the other species of wild turkey. Today, the Merriam's wild turkey has been successfully stocked beyond its suspected natural range into the Rocky Mountains and outside of the mountains into Nebraska, Washington, California, Oregon and other areas of the west.

4:41-4:44 (turkey noises)

4:46 The adult gobbler is clearly distinguished from the Eastern, Osceola and the Rio Grande gobbler by their nearly white feathers on the lower back and tips of the tail. These tail feather tips are very conspicuous when a strutting gobbler appears against a dark background. The gobble of a Merriam's is also something special, sounding more choppier than the gobble of the Eastern and Osceola.

5:15-5:28 (turkey noises)

5:29 The Eastern wild turkey is the most widely distributed, abundant and hunted subspecies of wild turkey found in the United States. It inhabits roughly the eastern half of the United States and Canada. The Eastern is found in hardwood and mixed forests from southern Canada and New England all the way to northern Florida and Texas in the south and over to Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota in the west.

It has also been transplanted in states outside of its original range like California, Oregon (turkey noises) and Washington. The Eastern wild turkey ranges farther to the north than any other subspecies. Eastern gobblers can grow to be among the largest of any subspecies. The gobbler may measure up to four feet tall at maturity and weigh 20 pounds or more.

6:30 The Eastern's tail feathers are dark brown to tan and sometimes look chocolate. Its breast feathers are tipped in black and have a bronze, copper iridescence.  A hen may be as tall as as gobbler but is somewhat smaller, usually 8-12 pounds. The male exhibits black tipped feathers while the female or hen have brown tipped feathers.

6:58 [Closing]

We want your input: