There are only two species of turkeys in the world, the North American Wild Turkey and the Ocellated Turkey.
The North American Wild Turkey has five subspecies. They are the Eastern, Osceola (Florida), Rio Grande, Merriam, and the Gould turkey.
With all species, the male turkeys (gobblers) are larger, darker, shinier and more colorful especially on his head which can appear red, white and blue. He lacks feathers on his head and his snood (the flap of skin that hangs over his beak), his caruncle (brightly colored growth on the throat region), and wattle (the flap under the turkey’s chin) are much more colorful and pronounced than the female. The gobbler also has a beard growing from his chest and has spurs found on the back of his legs.
The female (hen) is smaller and more dull or drab than the gobbler. She has a feathered head and her snood, caruncle and wattle are not detectable. Though some females may grow small breads and spurs, they generally are not a characteristic of the hen.
The Eastern Wild Turkey is the most common and inhabits the forests of the entire eastern half of the United States. They are the most abundant, most widely distributed and most hunted of the five subspecies found in the United States and Canada.
The Eastern Wild Turkey’s upper tail coverts, which cover the base of the long tail feathers, are tipped with chestnut brown and its tail tips are dark chocolate brown. In contrast, the breast feathers are tipped in black. Other body feathers are characterized by rich, metallic, copper\bronze iridescence. The primary wing feathers have white and black bars that extend from the outer edge of each all the way to the shaft. The secondary wing feathers have prominent white bars and are edged in white, producing a whitish triangular area on each side of the back when the wings are folded on the back.
The Osceola turkey is found only in the peninsula of Florida. It is the only state with a native population of turkeys. It’s similar to the Eastern wild turkey but is smaller and darker in color and the white bars in the wing feathers are narrow, irregular and broken and do not extend all the way to the feather shaft. Their secondary wing feathers are also dark, and when the wings are folded on the back, there are no whitish triangular patches as seen on the Eastern turkey.
The feathers of the Osceola turkey are more iridescent green and red colors, with less bronze than the Eastern. Their dark color of the tail coverts and the large tail feathers tipped in brown is similar to the Eastern, but unlike the lighter colors of the three western subspecies.
The Rio Grande wild turkey is native to the central plains states ranging through Texas and up into Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
The Rio Grande wild turkey is similar in appearance to the other subspecies of the wild turkey and similar in body size to the Osceola turkey, about 4 feet tall, but with extremely long legs. They are paler and copper colored. They can be distinguished from the Eastern and the Osceola turkeys by their tail feathers, which their coloration of the tail tips and tail coverts are lighter, more yellowish or tan color than the Eastern or Osceola, but they are darker than the Merriam’s and the Gould’s turkeys.
The Merriam turkey ranges along the Rocky Mountains and the eastern prairies of Wyoming and Montana and the western prairies of South Dakota. The Merriam turkey is velvety black with iridescent purple, blue and bronze. They are clearly distinguished from the Eastern, Osceola and Rio Grande by the nearly white feathers on the lower back and tail.
The Gould is the least recognized and least known of the 5 turkey subspecies. It can be found in southern Arizona and New Mexico and in northern Mexico. It is the largest of the 5 subspecies with longer legs and larger feet as well as larger tail feathers. They have distinctive white tips on the tail feathers and tail coverts. The lower back feathers have copper and green-gold reflections. Unlike the black body of the Merriam, the Gould feathers appear to be more blue/green.
The other species of turkey, the Ocellated turkey, exists only in a 50,000 square mile area of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, northern Belize and northern Guatemala.
It is easily distinguished from the North American turkey by their body feathers. They are bronze/green iridescent in color. The tail feathers are bluish gray with an eye-shaped blue/bronze color spot near the end and the tip is bright gold.
Unlike the North American turkeys where the gobblers have breads and the hens are duller in color and generally lacks a beard, the gobbler and hen Ocellated turkey’s breast feathers are the same and neither gobbler nor hen have a beard.