𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 25, 2021
Last Friday the president participated in what has become an annual tradition celebrating Thanksgiving, the pardoning of two turkeys. This year’s turkeys were named Peanut Butter and Jelly. Biden quipped, “Instead of getting basted, these two turkeys are getting boosted.” Peanut Butter and Jelly both weigh about 40 pounds and were raised in Jasper, Indiana. The tradition is usually credited to President Harry Truman, who did a photo-op with a turkey in 1947. In 2003 however, Truman’s presidential library said they could find no evidence of Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time. The first official turkey pardoning was held in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush, and it became an annual tradition. This year the president joked Peanut Butter and Jelly were chosen on their temperament, appearance, and he suspects, their vaccination status. Neither was as spectacular in appearance as the Ocellated Turkey.
While the administration was pushing vaccines with its post, a post from Audubon was touting bird conservation. There are only two species of turkey in the world. Most are familiar with the North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), which was first domesticated by the Aztecs and later by American Indigenous Tribes. While the domesticated form graces many US tables today, the wild flocks continue their decades-long recovery from overhunting and habitat loss across the eastern US. The Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is less well known. This iridescent blue relative is only found on the Yucatan Peninsula, or a small part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Despite its size and eye-popping plumage, this bird lurks mostly unseen amid thick foliage. Aside from having picturesque plumage, it is not that different from the bird roaming the eastern forests of America.
When I checked online, I found Ocellated Turkeys breed starting in March. A displaying male will stride through a group of females, tail spread wide, and head tilted back, resting on his fluffed back feathers. His wings will shake and occasionally rap the ground. The male then suddenly bursts into a rapid series of gobbles shallower than his larger American relative. A dominant male will mate with as many females as he can, while thwarting attempts by other males to mate with them. Nesting starts in April when the hen lays 8-15 eggs in a scrape on the ground, then incubates the clutch for four weeks. The young are precocial, meaning that they can scamper off as soon as they hatch, but the chicks stay with the hen until the start of the next breeding season.
𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀: The International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks the Ocellated Turkey as Near Threatened because populations are in decline. Healthy populations are protected in Guatemala’s Tikal, in private and national reserves in Belize, and in some large Mexican reserves. The reduction of the Ocellated Turkey has been caused by overhunting and destruction of natural habitat, as was once true for the Wild Turkey. Most hunting of Ocellated Turkeys is for subsistence (food), but some areas allow sport hunters to buy permits and hire guides. This provides another source of income for the locals. Eco-tourists and birders come to the area for the Ocellated Turkey and other varied species, bringing conservation dollars with them. Some communities report increasing turkey populations kept in balance by a mixture of conservation, cultivation, and sustainable game management. As with most ventures, education and cooperation are going to be the key for the Ocellated survival. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.