The Psychedelic Butterball: Ocellated Turkey

December 30, 2014

Butterball, the poultry supplier that’s become synonymous with anything-‘n’-everything white and dark meat. Deep fried, baked, sliced, you name it. But what we often overlook in the myriad production and packaging lines are the animal’s themselves― big-breasted, domesticated, and a far-cry from their once free-ranging ilk. We’ve become so accustomed, so habituated to stripping away at Mother Nature’s well-fabricated seams. And for what, a miserably deformed bird that’s now marketable? But thankfully, the commercial vise grips haven’t yet clasped the kaleidoscope cousin that lives in celebrity paradise.

The occelated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is a species of large, beard-less bird that’s endemic to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. And weighing in excess of fifteen-pounds, Big Bird would very much be there Sesame Street avatar. Surprisingly, occelated turkey―like many birds in the order Galliformes—often roost high-up in the forest canopy during the evening, early morning hours; they also can swiftly evade predatory threats by flying short distances.

Parrots Get All The Praise―Not Ground-Dwelling Turkeys

Now, let’s talk color, because there’s a rainbow of it. Ocellated turkeys are adorned with, what some ornithologist might say, the most visually vivid feathers found anywhere in the avian world.  These iridescent feathers don’t only provide a chromatic shimmer―they protect. Iridescence, in the animal kingdom, is an anatomical blessing. That oil slicked gleam actually helps to break-up their otherwise large appearance into smaller, less concrete projections. And it’s this mash-up of mosaics that, often times will deter any would-be predator; if you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it. And that mantra’s echoed loudly throughout the food web. There’s some “food for thought.”


Yes they’re turkeys, but are they “really” turkeys—do they gobble? And the answer is yes, yes they do. All turkeys, both male and female, vocalize during the mating season. The stereotypical “gobble-gobble” onomatopoeia we’ve associated with the common turkey’s a bit sexiest, actually.  Only the males will “gobble,” while the less boastful females will emit a more chicken-like “cluck”. And when “cluck” meets “gobble,” eighteen to twenty-five fertilized eggs happen. Once laid in their reclusive terrestrial settings, the female will continue to guard the eggs, until they hatch twenty-eight days later. Common among turkeys, the mother hen—the term “hen” refers to any female poultry or game bird—will then look after her brood till they reach adolescence.

Iridescent Feathers, Conservation Red Flag

But with fashion and beauty, these birds are going out of style. Deforestation, illegal harvesting, and the onslaught of invasive species have dwindled there population counts. That’s a problem, an environmental red flag. Every biotic life, every niche exists to serve a greater purpose—the “call of the wild,” if you will. We as this planet’s most prevalent being can leave unequivocal impact.  May our footprints be well-remembered, leaving room for generations to follow. We can all be thankful for that, don’t you think so?


—IUCN Red List contributor and  green journalist, Matthew Charnock

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