Little Troublemaker: Scratching all through the Garden
Now that its winter, a clucky visitor may be scratching around near you. It’s coming up to breeding season and 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 are now moving into lowland areas so that they are not so chilly over winter.
If you love a neat, formal garden, a resident Brush Turkey may well drive you a bit potty as it scrapes away your mulch! But you should know that there’s a lot to love about these very interesting Australian birds.
The survival of Brush Turkeys depends on the goodwill of people like you 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.
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.
Many females may visit a male’s mound and he will have plenty of eggs inside to incubate. He works hard to drive away predators such as Lace Monitors, Dingos, snakes, feral pigs and dogs that visit for an eggy snack by flinging leaf litter at them. He then pecks their tails as they head off.
Many eggs get eaten from a mound before they can hatch and only about one Brush Turkey will survive to adulthood out of every 200 eggs laid. So if you can get along with the Brush Turkeys that live in your area, you’ll be doing them a great favour!
The eggs have about 50 snuggly 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 send it on its way.
The little chick heads off into the wild by itself, 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.
Brush Turkeys, like all Australian native animals and plants, 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, you might like to 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 won’t like the feeling of scratching it.
If you want to discourage a Brush Turkey from building a mound in a particular spot, you may need to 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.