Monday, April 19, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Wild Turkey Subspecies

The wild turkey is one of America’s greatest hunting pursuits. They are also one of our greatest management success stories. After being over harvested in many locales early in the 20th century, wild turkey populations are booming. Their adaptability has helped expand the population to over six million birds across the United States. Many hunters don’t realize there is a difference in birds from sea to shining sea. Here’s a description of the four main subspecies of wild turkeys within our borders.

Eastern Wild Turkey
With over five million birds, the Eastern wild turkey is by far the most prolific. Their range includes nearly every state north, south, and east of Missouri. There are small pockets west of the chief range in states like Kansas and Oklahoma. These birds prefer hardwood forests within agricultural areas but have adapted to an incredible variety of habitats. Easterns are known for being wary but vocal. They are typically responsive to calling. Gobblers can weigh well over 25 pounds with hens weighing in at 8 to 12 pounds. The tail coverts(feathers at the base of the tail) are tipped with chestnut brown. The wing feathers are striped white and black. This coloration is the easiest way to differentiate the Eastern from the Rio.

Rio Wild Turkey

The home range of the Rio extends from Texas into Kansas with transplanted birds in lower numbers throughout the western half of the country. Biologists estimate the Rio population at just over one million birds. Rios prefer open country along streams and rivers. They live among mesquite, pine, and scrub oak forests. In addition to their open country habitat, Rios are known for their long legs. Despite their height, Rios are slightly lighter than Easterns. This could be due to lower quality food sources within their home range. Another way to tell the difference between Rios and Easterns is coloration. Rios have tan tail coverts compared to the brown coverts of the Eastern. Due to overlaps in range, Rio-Eastern hybrids are common in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Merriam’s Wild Turkey
The Merriam’s turkey is a westerner. It’s native range includes New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona, but it has been successfully introduced across the west. US population estimates are nearly 350,000 birds. They are known as mountain dwellers and are often found roosting in the ponderosa pines of the Rocky Mountain foothills. Because of their habitat, Merriam’s tend to have a wider range than Easterns and Rios, making them a bit more difficult to pattern. They are similar in size to the Eastern turkey but have some blue tones in their main body feathers. Merriam’s turkeys are easily distinguishable from their cousins by the white feathers at the base of their tails.

Osceola Wild Turkey
Osceola turkeys are found only in the state of Florida. The population is estimated at just under 100,000 birds. Osceolas are smaller than Eastern turkeys and feature a much darker color pattern. While Eastern turkeys are bronzed, Osceola’s have some green and reddish hues within their main body feathers. Osceolas are well suited to the swamps and pine and palmetto lowlands of their Florida home. Due to warmer habitat, they tend to breed and lay eggs earlier than other species.

Learn more about hunting wild turkeys @ Foremost Hunting

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