Backyard Buddies
Brush Turkey

Photo: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Brush Turkey

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In winter, a clucky visitor may be scratching around near you. In the lead-up to breeding season, male Brush Turkeys, also known as Bush Turkeys or Scrub Turkeys, are building and maintaining mounds.

They scratch leaf litter, sticks and mulch from a radius of about 20 m into a massive mound that can be 4 m in diameter and 1 to 1.5 m high.

In northern Queensland, Brush Turkeys move into lowland areas so that they are not so chilly over winter.

If you love a neat, formal garden, a resident Brush Turkey may be an unwelcome visitor as it scrapes away your mulch. Although widely regarded as a pest, there's a lot to love about these very interesting Australian birds.

The survival of Brush Turkeys depends on the goodwill of people who are willing to share their backyards and local areas with them.

The Brush Turkey'۪s mound is usually built in a shady, moist area and the leaf litter soon starts to rot down in these conditions. This generates heat inside the mound, keeping it toasty warm inside.

The male Brush Turkey attentively scratches holes in the mound and sticks his head in. He takes a mouthful of leaf litter and tests the temperature inside. Both male and female Brush Turkeys have highly accurate heat sensors inside their upper beak. They are experts at maintaining the optimum temperature of their nests.

The ideal temperature for a mound is about 33 degrees Celsius. If a male thinks his mound is getting too hot, he jumps on it and scratches some leaf material off the top to cool it down. If it is too cold, he scrapes more material onto the top, to add an extra blanket of warmth.

A lot of time and effort goes into constructing a mound, and a male Brush Turkey will use his mound again and again in years to come.

The male's wattle becomes much larger during breeding season from August to December, often swinging from side to side as they run. The males' heads and wattles also become much brighter during the breeding and nesting season.

When a female Brush Turkey arrives on the scene, she mates with the male, digs a hole in the mound and lays her egg. The male drives her off and she goes and finds another male to mate with and lays another egg in his mound, and so on. She might lay up to 24 eggs during the breeding season in different mounds.

The male has plenty of eggs to incubate. He works hard to drive away predators such as Lace Monitors, dingoes, snakes, feral pigs and dogs that are after the eggs by flinging leaf litter at them. He then pecks at their tails as they run away.

Many eggs get eaten from a mound before they can hatch and only about one out of every 200 eggs will survive to adulthood. If you are happy to live alongside your local Brush Turkeys, you'll be doing them a great favour.

The eggs have about 50 days in the mound before hatching. The little Brush Turkey chick is fluffy and brown and has to dig its way to the surface without any help. Once it struggles out of the mound, the male flings leaf litter at it to immediately send it on its way.

The little chick heads off into the wild alone, ready to fend for itself, without any parental care. Within a few hours it can fly.

Brush Turkeys are fearless and will simply come back if you try to chase them away. They will also steal food from outdoor pet bowls, so it's best to feed your pets indoors if you have a resident Brush Turkey.

Like all Australian native animals and plants, they are a protected species and it is illegal to harm them. If you want to encourage your resident Brush Turkey to explore other areas of your garden, or even other horizons, there are some simple things you can do:

Try creating an open compost heap in an area of your garden that you don't mind the Brush Turkey building a mound in. Make sure it's in an area 80 to 90% shaded - so near trees is best.

To deter Brush Turkeys, try planting low growing native plants to provide thick ground cover.

Put some tree guards around small or newly-established plants to protect them until they get big enough, and spread some river gravel around the base of trees and plants to protect the roots.

Peg chicken wire over your mulch pile as Brush Turkeys dislike the feeling of scratching it.

TIP

 If you want to discourage a Brush Turkey from building a mound in a particular spot, remove some branches from above the target area so it is less shady.

By increasing the amount of sunlight in that spot, it will become less attractive for the Brush Turkey as it will be harder for it to control the temperature of its mound there.

DID YOU KNOW?

 While not working on a mound or looking for mates, a Brush Turkey loves to eat insects, native fruit and seeds. Brush Turkeys are good backyard buddies that will keep your bug numbers under control and help distribute the seeds of many native plants.

 

Related Factsheets:

Brush Turkey

Brush Turkeys, or Bush Turkeys, have developed a reputation for creating a path of destruction through suburban gardens. With the shrinking of their habitat, they are forced to move into backyards to raise their families. Unfortunately, this requires an enormous mound of decomposing material whi..

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Quote

”Birds, bugs, lizards and penguins are my favourite Backyard Buddies – I like to find, watch and learn about what they do and what I can do to help them.“

Gus – 11 year old Backyard Buddy, NSW

Photo: OEH