The Merriam’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) is found primarily in the ponderosa pine, western mountain regions of the United States. It was named by Dr. E.W. Nelson in 1900 in honor of C. Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey.
Within its suspected historic range in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, the Merriam’s was relatively isolated from the other subspecies of wild turkey. Current evidence supports the hypothesis that it was a relative newcomer to western American wildlife when the Europeans discovered it.
The Merriam’s wild turkey has been successfully stocked beyond its suspected natural range in the Rocky Mountains and outside of the mountains into Nebraska, Washington, California, Oregon and other areas.
Merriam’s are found in some habitat areas that, if altered by timber harvesting overgrazing or development, populations may be lost. Their normal range receives annual rainfall amounts averaging between 15 and 23 inches.
Adult males are clearly distinguished from the eastern, Florida and Rio Grande by the nearly white feathers on the lower back and tail feather margins. Merriam’s closely resemble the Gould’s turkey, but its tail margin is not usually quite as pure white nor is the lighter margin of the tail tip quite as wide.
Its size is comparable to the eastern turkey, but has a blacker appearance with blue, purple and bronze reflections. The Merriam’s appears to have a white rump due to its pinkish, buff or whitish tail coverts and tips. These tail feather tips are very conspicuous when the strutting gobbler appears against a dark background. The males exhibit black-tipped breast feathers, while the females, or hens, have buff-tipped breast feathers. The white areas on her wings are more extensive giving a whiter appearance to the folded wing.