There are two species of turkeys in the world. The ocellated turkey is
found in southern Mexico and portions of Central America. The wild
turkey lives in 49 of the United States (no turkeys in Alaska) and
portions of southern Canada and northern Mexico. The wild turkey’s
genus name is Meleagris, and its species name, gallopavo, means
“chicken-like peafowl.” There are five recognized subspecies of wild
turkeys in North America.
The Eastern subspecies, Meleagris gallopavo silvestris, is
the most abundant and widespread wild turkey in North America. More
than 3 million birds inhabit 37 Eastern, Southern and Midwestern states
from Maine to Missouri. The subspecies has also been stocked in faraway
places like California and Oregon. Eastern populations are stable or
growing in many parts of North America.
The Osceola subspecies, Meleagris gallopavo osceola , is
the namesake of the Seminole Indian chief who led his tribe in a bloody
border war against the Americans in the early 1800s. The Osceola is
commonly called the Florida turkey since its range is limited to the
southern two-thirds of the Sunshine State. Some 100,000 Osceola turkeys
inhabit middle and southern Florida today. Wild turkeys found in
northern Florida are regarded as Eastern/Osceola hybrids.
The Merriam subspecies, Meleagris gallopavo merriami, was named
after C. Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey.
An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 birds inhabit 15 Western states from
South Dakota to Idaho to New Mexico. Small populations of Merriam’s
turkeys are also found in southern Manitoba and Alberta.
The Rio Grande
In the late 1800s a scientist named Sennett observed that the
Rio Grande subspecies differed from the other American turkeys by being
intermediate in appearance, hence its name Meleagris gallopavo
intermedia. The Rio is native to the south central plains and is most
abundant in that region today. The subspecies has been successfully
transplanted to several West Coast states. While close to a million
Rio’s inhabit 13 plains and western states the subspecies could easily
be dubbed the “Texas wild turkey.” A whopping 85 percent of America’s
Rio Grande flock roams the Lone Star State.
Huntable numbers of the Gould turkey, Meleagris gallopavo
mexicana, inhabit the mountains of northwestern Mexico. Several hundred
Gould’s birds currently roam mountain ranges in southern Arizona and
New Mexico. State wildlife agencies and the National Wild Turkey
Federation are working to expand the Gould’s population in the