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Wild turkeys and turkey hunting have increased in popularity since their comeback. Their scientific name is Meleagris gallopavo and their are five subspecies of wild turkey that currently inhabit the United States. Each of the five subspecies feature unique characteristics and inhabit different parts of the U.S.. Today we will explore these subspecies: the Eastern, Osceola (Florida), Rio Grande, Merriam’s, and Gould’s Wild Turkeys.
Wild Turkey Subspecies
Eastern Wild Turkey
Eastern Turkey is the most widely distributed of five subspecies of wild turkey in the U.S.
Their range extends from Maine to Florida and westward to Missouri, Michigan, and Texas.
They exhibit dark, metallic, bronze-like plumage, and are known for their chestnut brown tips on the tail feathers with black and white barring on the wings.
Adult males usually weigh between 16 to 24 pounds.
Adult females usually weight between 8 to 12 pounds.
The Eastern subspecies is also known to have the longest beards of the subspecies.
Osceola Wild Turkey
The Osceola Wild Turkey or the Florida wild turkey is exclusively found on the Florida peninsula.
Osceola turkeys are smaller and darker than the eastern wild turkey, with mostly black wings and dark brown tips on the tail feathers.
Adult males typically weigh between 16 to 20 pounds.
Adult females typically weight between 8 to 12 pounds.
The Osceola is also known to have long legs and spurs.
This subspecies is often considered the toughest bird for turkey hunters to harvest while attempting a Grand Slam.
Rio Grande Wild Turkey
Rio Grande turkeys are found in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and further into the western states, reaching into northeastern Mexico.
The Rio Grande subspecies is adapted to dry conditions and tends to roost in trees near water sources.
The Rio Grande wild turkey is generally lighter and more copper-colored than Eastern Wild Turkey, with tan colored tips on the tail feathers and white and black bars on the wings.
Adult males usually weigh between 20 to 25 pounds.
Adult females usually weigh between 8 to 12 pounds.
Merriam’s Wild Turkey
The Merriam’s Wild Turkey is native to the ponderosa pine forests and mountainous regions of the Rocky Mountains.
What sets the Merriam’s wild turkey apart from all the other subspecies is the snow white tips on their tail feathers.
This subspecies of turkey is not known for having very long beards or very long spurs.
Adult males weight between 18 to 30 pounds.
Adult females weight between 8 to 12 pounds.
Gould’s Wild Turkey
The Gould’s Wild Turkey is least common wild turkey subspecies in the U.S..
Gould’s turkeys are primarily found in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, extending into northern Mexico.
They are the largest turkey subspecies, with males often weighing over 20 pounds but also have the lowest population of the five subspecies.
Their tail feathers and lower back feathers are tipped with a striking white color, similar to the Merriam’s tail feathers.
Adult males weigh between 18 to 30 pounds.
Adult females weigh between 12 to 14 pounds.
History of the wild turkey in the United States
The role of wild turkeys goes beyond their biological contribution; they are also a part of the cultural and historical landscape of the United States. They hold significance in Native American mythologies and are enjoyed by many hunters and nature enthusiasts today.
Conservation and the Wild Turkey
The restoration of the wild turkey is one of the greatest conservation stories of our time. Before the 1960’s the wild turkey population saw a dramatic decreases but to being over hunted and loss of habitat.
Outdoorsman and wildlife organizations, like the National Wild Turkey Federation, worked to reintroduce turkeys into their former habitats and were able to bring the wild turkey back to healthy populations across the United State.
It is important for us as outdoorsmen to not forget this and to continue conservation efforts by supporting conservation initiatives, habitat protection, and sustainable hunting practices so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the wild turkey.