Brush-turkeys are becoming a part of the suburban landscape in many areas of Sydney, maybe due to the success of the fox baiting program. These cheeky megapodes with the distinctive red head, and blue-black plumage and bright yellow throat wattle in mature males, can wreck havoc in a carefully manicured garden. It is useful to learn more about this native so that we can coexist happily in the garden.
The Brush-turkey uses its large claws to rake away leaf litter to reveal tasty treats such as worms, snails, seeds, insects and fallen fruit. This raking action aerates the soil and the Brush-turkey removes garden pests such as snails.
From late winter the mature male will begin to build a mound of leaf litter and bark to attract the female. A typical mound is 1m high and 4m wide and after mating the female lays the eggs in the mound at a depth of between 40 and 150cm. There can be up to 50 eggs laid by several females in a single mound. The eggs are a favourite of the goanna.
The male will guard the eggs and checks the temperature by sticking his beak into the mound, maintaining the optimal temperature of around 34°C by adding or removing leaf litter. Experiments have proven that a hotter mound will cause more female chicks to survive and a lower temperature will cause more male chicks to survive.
After 7 weeks the chick first emerges from the egg very slowly, barely moving for the first 16 hours. The next 20-30 hours are spent digging. The chick will emerge only during daylight and immediately makes for the closest thicket. They face many predators and the chick is on its own from day one. Their main predators are cats, dogs, foxes, birds of prey and even the occasional snake.
Remarkably, they are able to fly just a few hours after emerging. Generally though they are clumsy fliers and only take to the air when threatened by predators or to roost in trees at night and during the heat of the day.
The chick grows quite quickly and by 2 months has already lost its brown fluffy feathers and has begun to look like a smaller adult. By 8 months it is almost fully grown. The species is communal, forming communal nests. A typical group consists of a dominant male, one or more younger males and several females.
The Brush-turkey will stay in the same area each year. The general advice is that you cannot win if the male decides to build a mound during mating season, so if you are unhappy with a mound then cover it with a tarpaulin when it is no longer mating season to discourage the bird to rebuild next year. Or you can set aside an area of the garden, preferably beneath a tree and near a compost bin that you are comfortable with being messy.
If you have a beautifully landscaped area covered in mulch remember that the Brush-turkey is not trying to wreck your beautiful work, they just see that you have provided them with the materials for a sensational mound. And it seems that the quality of the mound helps the males mating prospects so who can blame him for taking advantage of the bounty on offer.
LIFE WITHOUT PARENTS.
Nature Australia, 01/09/2005, Vol. 28 Issue 6, p30-37, 8p, 7 Color Photographs
Ecos, 01/10/2002, Issue 113, p31, 3p