Brush Turkeys: Learning to love these feathered friends
The determined “scritch-scratch” shuffling of leaves is a sound that causes many a backyard garden enthusiast’ eye to twitch; the sound of an Australian brush turkey hard at work building a nest mound.
Love them or loathe them, there’s no denying the brush turkey’s success. Once found all along the east coast, brush turkeys were nearly hunted to extinction during the Great Depression in the 1930s when their meat and eggs provided a valuable food source.
However, brush turkeys are making a major come back. While many animals are struggling with urbanisation, brush turkey numbers are actually on the rise in many suburban areas.
Although they can sometimes make a bit of a mess, these native birds are actually quite remarkable.
Let's start with their fascinating family structure
In the brush turkey world, it’s the dads that put in most of the effort. Male brush turkeys work tirelessly to scrape together mounds of soil and leaf litter into a massive pile about 4m in diameter and 1m high.
Once the male has achieved the perfect pile, he allows a female to access the mound where she will lay an egg that has been previously fertilised by a different male.
Multiple females will visit and lay the eggs of different males in the pile, which are incubated by the heat given off by the decomposing material.
The male brush turkey is responsible for protecting the mound and keeping the internal temperature at roughly 33 degrees, which he does by using his beak as a thermometer and adding or removing leaf litter.
But that's just the beginning. Let's talk about the chicks
Brush turkey parents take a very hands-off approach to raising kids. After hatching, the new-born chicks have to dig their way out through roughly 1m of dirt and debris and once they make it to the surface, they’re completely on their own. They can even fly a few hours after hatching, and immediately go off on their own in search of food.
Brush turkeys play an important role in controlling insect populations and dispersing seeds in their droppings. Once the chicks have all hatched, their unused mounds can also make fantastic compost.
If you do want to discourage turkeys from nesting in your garden, try to limit the availability of leaf litter and act quickly to remove the early signs of a mound forming (only very early stages).
Lastly, it’s important to remember that brush turkeys are a native species and are protected by law. There are serious penalties for harming brush turkeys or their eggs/nests.
The best thing we can do is embrace and appreciate these fastidious feathered friends and learn to live with them, like a somewhat messy, yet endearing, roommate.