The eastern wild turkey is a medium-sized ground bird indigenous to North America, the only surviving species of the genus turkeys, and the second extant species of turkey, among the two extinct members of this order.
It is also the ancestor of the domestic turkeys, which was initially derived from a Mexican subspecies of turkey. Although the origin of domesticated turkeys is not yet known, it is assumed that their domestication took place after the divergence of at least two previously independent lineages, namely the Old World blackbird and the Asian swan.
This split brought forth the appearance of several different subspecies in North America. Biologically, the most significant physical differences among the various subspecies are in size, shell shape, migration patterns, behavior, diet, habitat preferences, and reproductive rate.
The Different Subspecies of Eastern Wild Turkey
All North American wild turkeys have similar characteristics concerning habitat, size, general appearance, and reproductive rate, but differ significantly in body size, shell shape (both shoulder and underbelly), weight, and tail feathers.
Despite these general characteristics, each subspecies of the eastern wild turkeys has a slightly different appearance, including those that are native to parts of Mexico, such as the Lesser Antillean; Lesser Jackeleons, including the Papionaceae; and the Lesser Blues, which are native to the sagebrush steppe of western Colorado and adjacent areas.
The Lesser Blues has a shape that has a nearly triangular shape with a short neck and a heavy underbelly. They weigh about eight pounds and are half to two feet long. Their tail feathers, unlike that of the wild turkeys, are completely black or reddish and their head, neck, chest, and belly are white.
Lesser Antillean Wild Turkeys have a gray ground color, along with darkish heads, necks, chests, and bellies. They have slightly heavier bodies than the other subspecies, weighing up to thirty pounds each. They have moderately sized tails, though some specimens have unusually long and droopy tails. Their adult males weigh about eighteen pounds, with the lighter colored undersides being only six to eight inches long.
The smallest of the four eastern wild turkeys, the Lesser Blues has a profile that is quite small, making them particularly cute. Their adult males weight only eight pounds, with the lighter colored undersides being only four to five inches long. Their tails are orange or red in color, with the dark-colored underbelly being a light-colored ring. Their ears are rounded and pointed, while their faces have pronounced cheekbone.
The largest subspecies weigh up to twenty pounds and have a similarly shaped figure with a somewhat rounded nose. Compared to the other subspecies, these turkeys have larger torsos and have darker heads, throats, chests, bellies, and heads. Also, these birds have much heavier feathers for survival in colder weather. Lesser Blues has adult males that weigh up to twelve pounds and have gray or reddish breast feathers, with some specimens having pinkish belly feathers.
With the Eastern Wild Turkeys, you will notice that their neck is straighter as well as their beaks and tail feathers are bushy. In addition, adult females weigh between eight to 12 pounds and their male counterparts weigh between twelve to fifteen pounds. Lesser Blues has adult males that weigh between twelve to fifteen pounds and have brown upperparts, while the females have red and white upperparts.
As you can see, the size of a turkey can vary drastically depending on the subspecies. So, if you want to hunt them, it would be best to determine the right size for your hunting needs before going on a hunt.
Although they do share a few similar characteristics, each of these subspecies still has unique characteristics of its own. Knowing this will help you identify which of these birds to target on your next hunt for the elusive eastern wild turkey.