Chief of the Plains: The Rio Grande Wild Turkey

Chief of the Plains: The Rio Grande Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo intermedia, or Rio for short, is at home on the range. Native to the semi-arid areas of the southern Great Plains states, the Rio Grande wild turkey occupies more open terrain than Easterns and Osceolas to the East. Rios spend their days in rough, dry country, where the availability of water affects their habitat use and daily movements. Named after the historic Rio Grande River that borders his territory, his appearance falls somewhere between the Eastern and Western subspecies, hence his scientific name, Meleagris gallapavo intermedia.

Rio Grande wild turkeys spend their days in rough, dry country, where the availability of water affects their habitat use and daily movements. Rio habitat ranges from cottonwood creek bottoms to the scrub brush of Texas, where birds sometimes roost 8 feet off the ground and drink from cattle troughs. Open country Rios concentrate around roost sites where limited trees exist. In the relatively treeless expanse of West Texas, Rios have been reported to roost on power lines, windmill towers and even oil tanks. Rios stand up to four feet tall, but are generally lighter in body weight than Easterns.


  • Primary Location: The Southwestern United States, primarily Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas
  • Estimated Population: 853,000 (Population estimates based on 2014 survey data from state wildlife agencies)
  • Average Male Adult Weight: 18-22 lbs
  • Average Female Adult Weight: 8-12 lbs

Wing Feathers

A wild turkey’s wing feathers feature white and black barring at varying widths, depending on the subspecies. Similar to an Eastern, the Rio has an equal balance of white and black barring.

Tail fan

Ryan Kirby Wild Turkey Tail feather Colors

Tail feather coloration is the easiest way to differentiate the four subspecies. Used to display for hens during the spring, a gobbler's 18 tail feathers are the same length in adults, but different lengths in juveniles. Rio Grande turkeys have copper-colored tips on the tailfeathers with yellow-buff tipped
covert feathers.


Ryan Kirby Wild Turkey Beard Length

Made of modified feathers, all male turkeys and about 10% of hens sport a beard – long, dark bristles hanging from their breast. Beards can grow 4 to 6 inches annually, but wear at the tip as the turkey feeds. Terrain and habitat differences are the primary reasons for length variance among the subspecies. Rios have a beard that’s moderate in length and girth.


Ryan Kirby Wild Turkey Spur Length

The spurs on the back of a turkey’s leg are made of smooth, shiny keratin and range in color from black to pink. Both sexes are born with small button spurs, but they continue to grow in male turkeys. A Rio’s spurs are moderate in length with often rounded tips, worn down by arid climates


Ryan Kirby Wild Turkey Gobble Strength

The pitch of a gobble from different subspecies can be quite different, ranging from 400-4,500 HZ. Rio’s have a relatively weak gobble, rated at around a 2.5 out of 5 in strength.

The Grand Slam Subspecies of the Wild Turkey

Have you completed a Grand Slam hunt? The “Grand Slam Subspecies of the North American Wild Turkey” by Ryan Kirby celebrates a true American original - the wild turkey. Essential for any turkey hunting enthusiast, this print is perfect for the office, hunting lodge, or mancave.

Ryan Kirby Grand Slam Wild Turkey Print framed

Personalized Rio Grande Wild Turkey Prints

Whether it’s the people, the location, or the bird, every turkey hunter has a hunt they’ll never forget. Now, you can commemorate that special hunt with the ultimate piece of turkey art! 

Our personalized Wild Turkey prints highlight the unique characteristics of the Eastern, Osceola, Merriam and Rio Grande, and allows you to insert the hunter’s name, harvest date, location, weight, spur size, beard length, and story of the hunt in the “Field Notes” section. You can also have your harvest photo printed directly on the print.


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