Brush Turkeys

Thumbnail: 
Australian Brush Turkey
Category: 
Backyard Creatures, Native Animals

The Australian Brush Turkey (Alectura lathami), also known as bush turkey and scrub turkey, lives in rainforests and eucalypt forests along Australia's east coast from Queensland to NSW.

Since European settlement their population has declined and were almost wiped out in Sydney due to habitat loss and hunting. In fact, during The Great Depression (1929–32) its stringy meat formed a major food source for hungry families.

The brush turkey is returning to Sydney thanks to a trend towards native bush gardens and is now a regular site in Sydney's northern suburbs, including suburbs in the northern beaches and Warringah.

Brush turkeys play a vital role in Australia's natural ecosystem. The continual scratching and raking in bushland environments for food, such as insects, grubs, seeds and fallen fruits, aerates the soil, supplying vital nutrients to the earth and stimulating the regeneration of native plants.

The Australian brush turkey has black feathers, a bare bright red head, yellow throat wattle and flattened tail. A chick looks similar to a quail and has brown feathers all over its body. As it matures, it loses the feathers on its head and neck and the bare skin turns a rich pink colour.

To protect themselves from predators such as foxes and cats, brush turkeys form roosting groups in trees.

Breeding

The male brush turkey incubates eggs from several females in a large mound that it builds from organic matter. Mounds are around 4m in diameter and 1m high.

The rotting vegetable matter of the mound keeps the eggs warm. The male bird uses its bill to check the temperature of the mound, which needs to remain between 33-38°C. To keep it a constant temperature, the bird adds and removes vegetation.

Fully feathered chicks emerge from the mound by burrowing their way out and are able to walk and fend for themselves immediately.

In the Garden

Some people regard brush turkeys as destructive in landscaped gardens, since they remove vegetation, earth and mulch to create their incubation mounds.

Birds can strip away plants and light mulch used in landscaped gardens in hours. Heavier ground coverings, such as river gravel, and tree guards can reduce damage to vulnerable plants.

Brush turkeys can be beneficial to gardens as they feed on insects and grubs that can cause disease and decimate gardens, especially vegetable patches. Their scratching at the earth also aerates the soil, allowing vital nutrients to return.

Brush turkeys that visit your garden in late winter/early spring may be looking for a good place to build a mound. Once they have started building, it is extremely difficult to prevent them. It is useless removing a mound as it will be rebuilt in the same spot, often within the day.

Ways to Prevent Mound Building in your Garden

To deter the bird from building a mound, take precautions before it starts building, such as:

  • Attract the bird to a less valuable area of your garden by building a compost mound in a shady spot
  • Peg chicken wire or a tarpaulin over your mulch pile to stop the birds using the matter for their mound
  • Keep compost in a closed bin
  • Place rocks around precious plants
  • Replace mulch with gravel on garden beds