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Class Aves
Order Galliformes
Family Phasianidae


Meleagridinae—Turkeys // Tetraoninae—Grouses

Phasianidae—Pheasants, Grouse, and Turkeys

The pheasants are Old World inhabitants and present only as historic introductions. Grouse and relatives, such as ptarmigans and prairie chickens, are native and represented in the Pleistocene fossil record as are turkeys.

As non-migrants (other than elevationally or for short distances), relatively weak fliers, and reasonably habitat specific, the phasianids are of value in environmental reconstruction.


Although currently considered to be a subfamily within the Phasianidae, turkeys were long placed in a family of their own, the Meleagrididae. They are large birds with mainly featherless heads and necks. They are swift runners, usually taking to wing only when pressed. Sexual dimorphism in size is notable, with the females being the smaller sex. There are two living species, of which only one (M. gallopavo) occurs in the U.S.

Turkeys are associated with open forest; thus the modern species historically has been limited largely to montane and riparian galley forest in our region.

At present, all Wisconsin-age turkeys are placed within a single genus which thus includes both the living and extinct species. A thorough review of the fossil forms is available in Steadman (1980).

Literature. Steadman 1980.


Meleagris sp.—Turkeys

Regional Pleistocene distribution of Meleagris sp.

Four species (three extinct) are known from the Pleistocene of our region. Fragmentary material, however, may be identifiable only to genus and are listed here.


?Late Irvingtonian/Rancholabrean: Emery Borrow Pit (Jefferson 1991a).

Mid Wisconsin: Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003).

Late Wisconsin: U-Bar Cave 15-18 ka (Harris 1989: cf.); U-Bar Cave 18-20 ka (Harris 1989: cf.).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Williams Cave (Ayer 1936).

Literature. Ayer 1936; Harris 1989, 2003; Jefferson 1991a.


Regional Pleistocene distribution of Meleagris anza

Meleagris anza (Howard 1963)—Anza Turkey

Synonyms. Agriocharis anza.


Late Blancan/Irvingtonian: Vallecito Creek, Anza-Borrego Desert (Howard 1963).

Literature. Howard 1963.


Meleagris californica (L. Miller 1909)—California TurkeyRegional Pleistocene distribution of Meleagris californica

Synonyms. Parapavo californica.


Rancholabrean: Alhambra and Workman streets (Workman Storm Drain) (Jefferson 1991a); York Valley, Ave. 45 and Lincoln Ave., Highland Park (Jefferson 1991a).

Wisconsin: Carpinteria (Guthrie 2009); Imperial Highway (Jefferson 1991a); Zuma Creek (Jefferson 1991a).

Mid/Late Wisconsin: Diamond Valley (Springer et al. 2009: ? gen.); Rancho La Brea (Stock and Harris 1992).

Late Wisconsin: La Mirada (Jefferson 1991a); Maricopa (Jefferson 1991a).

Literature. Guthrie 2009; Jefferson 1991a; Springer et al. 2009; Stock and Harris 1992.


Meleagris crassipes L. Miller 1940—Big-foot Turkey

Regional Pleistocene distribution of Meleagris crassipes

Loye Miller (1940) described M. crassipes from San Josecito Cave, Nuevo León, Mexico, on the basis of a male tarsometatarsus (a number of other elements were available, however). He described the species as being smaller than either of the living species of Meleagris.

Rea (1980) examined late Quaternary turkey remains from 17 Southwestern sites, coming to the conclusion that all fossil specimens except those from northern Sonora and from Conkling Cavern in New Mexico represented this extinct species. Post-agricultural specimens represented the living species (M. gallopavo), leading him to hypothesize that modern turkeys in most of the Southwest are descendants of feral populations escaped from the Indian cultures of the Southwest. Since his publication, however, Brasso and Emslie (2006) have identified late Pleistocene Meleagris gallopavo from two caves in the Sandia Mountains.

The early specimen from the San Antonio site (Fite Ranch site of Morgan and Lucas 2005) originally was identified as M. gallopavo (Needham 1936). Howard (1971) identified two elements from Dark Canyon Cave as M. gallopavo ?; these specimen later were lost; they are assumed here to belong to M. crassipes, and a coracoid recovered at a later date is of this species (Rea 1980).

Howard (1962) tentatively identified four fragments of turkey from Howell's Ridge Cave as Meleagris gallopavo; later (Rea 1980) identified these as belonging to M. crassipes. The specimen from U-Bar Cave probably is Late Wisconsin, but having been retrieved from the fill of an animal burrow, it's original position cannot be ascertained.


Late Blancan: San Antonio Site (Rea 1980: cf.).

Rancholabrean: Papago Springs Cave (Rea 1980).

Early/Early-Mid Wisconsin: Sabertooth Camel Maze (Rea 1980).

Mid/Late Wisconsin: Dark Canyon Cave (Rea 1980); Shelter Cave (Rea 1980); U-Bar Cave (Harris 1993c).

Late Wisconsin: Burnet Cave (Rea 1980).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Howell's Ridge Cave (Rea 1980); Kokoweef Cave (Reynolds, Reynolds, et al. 1991: cf.).

Literature. Brasso and Emslie 2006; Harris 1993c; Howard 1962, 1971; Jefferson 1991a; Miller 1940; Morgan and Lucas 2005; Needham 1936; Rea 1980; Reynolds, Reynolds, et al. 1991.


Meleagris gallopavo Linnaeus 1758—Wild Turkey

Regional Pleistocene distribution of Meleagris gallopavo

Meleagris gallopavo, photo by Gary M. Stolz, US Fish and Wildlife ServiceFig. 1. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Photograph by Gary M. Stolz, US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Rea (1980) noted that Meleagris gallopavo had been identified from New Mexico from only one probable Pleistocene site, Conkling Cavern. Several elements were recovered from that cave; one, a humerus shaft, came from the 6 to 7 m level (Rea 1980). A record from Burnet Cave appears to be Holocene (Rea 1980). Since Rea's study, the taxon has been recorded from the late Pleistocene of Marmot and Sandia caves (Brasso and Emslie 2006).


Rancholabrean: Arizpe (Cracraft 1968).

Sangamon: La Brisca (Van Devender et al. 1985).

Late Wisconsin: Marmot Cave (Brasso and Emslie 2006); Sandia Cave (Brasso and Emslie 2006).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Burnet Cave (Rea 1980); Conkling Cavern (Rea 1980); William's Cave (Ayer 1936: cf.).

Literature. Ayer 1936; Brasso and Emslie 2006; Cracraft 1968; Rea 1980; Van Devender et al. 1985.


Last Update: 27 Jan 2015