Animal Species:Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey chicks hatch fully feathered and can fly within a few hours.

 

Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey
Photographer: G Little © Australian Museum

Standard Common Name

Australian Brush-turkey

Identification

The Australian Brush-turkey has a mainly black body plumage, bare red head, yellow throat wattle (pale blue in northern birds) and laterally flattened tail. The Australian Brush-turkey is not easily confused with any other Australian bird. It is the largest of Australia's three megapodes (Family Megapodiidae). The megapodes are a distinct family of the group of fowl-like birds (Order Galliformes), which includes quails, turkeys, peafowl and junglefowl.

Size range

60 cm to 75 cm

Similar Species

Orange-footed Scrubfowl,Malleefowl

Distribution

The Australian Brush-turkey's range extends along eastern Australia, from Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, south to the northern suburbs of Sydney and the Illawarra region of New South Wales.

Habitat

The Australian Brush-turkey inhabits rainforests and wet schlerophyll forests, but can also be found in drier scrubs. In the northern part of its range, the Australian Brush-turkey is most common at higher altitudes, but individuals move to the lowland areas in winter months. In the south, it is common in both mountain and lowland regions.

Seasonality

The mounds are generally in use between August and February and you can be sure it's abandoned once you see seedlings growing on top.When the chicks have left the nest the leftover mound is a perfect bit of compost for humans to spread out over the garden.

Feeding and Diet

Brush-turkeys feed on insects, seeds and fallen fruits, which are exposed by raking the leaf litter or breaking open rotten logs with their large feet. The majority of food is obtained from the ground, with birds occasionally observed feeding on ripening fruits among tree branches. 

Mating and reproduction

As with other megapodes, the Australian Brush-turkey incubates its eggs in a large mound. The male usually builds a single large mound of organic matter, approximately 4 m in diameter and 1 m high. Some males have been recorded with more than one mound, but this is not common. Eggs are laid by several females in a single mound. The eggs are incubated by the heat given off by the rotting vegetation. The male maintains a constant temperature of 33 - 38°C by digging holes in the mound and inserting his bill to check the heat, then adding and removing vegetable matter as required. Before the eggs hatch, many fall prey to burrowing predators such as goannas. After hatching, the chicks burrow out of the mound, at which point they are left to fend for themselves. These hatchlings are fully feathered and are able to walk and fend for themselves immediately. Remarkably, they are able to fly just a few hours after hatching.

  • Clutch size: 50 eggs (from several females)
  • Incubation: 49 days

Conservation Status

All native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, but not including dingoes, are protected in NSW by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

Evolutionary Relationships

Brush turkeys are the most ancient member of a family that dates back 30 million years and includes chickens, quails, peacocks and pheasants.

Their egg incubation process — dumping them in a mound and abandoning them — is an extraordinarily primitive nesting behaviour, closer to a crocodile than a normal bird's.

Management

Many people consider brush turkeys to be destructive in carefully planned gardens, since they remove vegetation, earth and mulch to create their incubation mounds. In a few hours, the birds can strip away closely-planted natives and light, moist mulch, used frequently in landscaped gardens. Heavier ground coverings (such as river gravel) and tree guards can reduce the impact on valuable and vulnerable plants.

Once a male brush turkey has started to build its mound, it is extremely difficult to prevent it from continuing its efforts. No single method of deterrence has proved effective in all situations, but you can try:

  • spreading a heavy tarpaulin over the mound and weighing it down, to prevent the bird from working
  • diverting the bird's attention to a less attractive or valuable area of your garden, by building a household compost mound. Ideally, this compost mound should be sited next to at least one large tree providing 80 to 95 per cent shade. The brush turkey may be attracted towards the area, and may eventually take over the compost mound as its nesting mound.
  • If these methods fail and you cannot adapt to the situation, you can contact your nearest NPWS office for further detailed advice.

Tips for living with Brush turkeys

  • To discourage brush turkeys in places you don't want them, dismantle any sign of a nest before it gets established.
  • Don't feed the birds.
  • Build fences around your garden beds.
  • Brush turkeys are encouraged by thick rainforest vegetation and leaf litter – they also need a lot of space for their enormous mounds.

Classification

Species:
lathami
Genus:
Alectura
Family:
Megapodiidae
Order:
Galliformes
Class:
Aves
Subphylum:
Vertebrata
Phylum:
Chordata
Kingdom:
Animalia

What does this mean?

References

  • Edden, R. and Boles, W.E. 1986. Birds of the Australian Rainforests. Reed Books, Sydney.
  • Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antartic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Olsen, P., Crome, F. and Olsen, J. 1993. The Birds of Prey and Ground Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.


Ondine Evans , Web Researcher/Editor
Last Updated:

Tags BIBY, bird, birds, Australian, ground-dwelling, megapodes, brush turkey,