Australian brush turkey

The Australian brush turkey belongs to the family of birds known as megapodes because of their large feet. They construct large mounds of rotting vegetation to incubate their eggs.

What do they look like?

Australian brush turkey (Alectura lathami) The brush turkey is easily recognised by its:

  • deep blue-black plumage
  • bright head colours
  • broad, flat tail
  • general turkey-like appearance.

The bird's wattle (a fleshy lobe hanging down from the base of its neck) varies in colour with its age, gender and location. In the southern parts of its range, the male brush turkey has a bright yellow wattle, while on Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland its wattle is light blue. Females and younger birds have dull yellow wattles.

Brush turkey chicks look much like quails, with plain rich brown feathers over their entire bodies. As they mature they lose the feathers on their heads and necks, where the bare skin turns a deep pink colour.

What do they sound like?

The Australian brush turkey, while generally a quiet bird, will sometimes be heard making soft grunts. Males have a deep three-noted booming call.

 

Australian brush turkey (Alectura lathami), Sea Acres National ParkThe Australian brush turkey can be found in NSW and Queensland. It lives in humid forests along the eastern seaboard and inland to the wetter ranges, though it is most often seen in rainforest and neighbouring eucalypt forest areas. It remains in a particular locality throughout the year, where it breeds and forages in the forest leaf litter for fruits, seeds and small animals.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, when jobs and food were scarce, Australian brush turkeys (brush turkeys) were nearly wiped out when people used them for meat and eggs. Today, this native wildlife is protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the population of brush turkeys is now recovering in areas where they have not been seen for many decades.

Mound builders like lyrebirds and brush turkeys are territorial, and in the large area where they rake and shift leaf litter, looking for insects and worms, they are also breaking up the dry leaves and twigs and pushing them into the soil. This reduces the fuel available for hot ground fires and can create a refuge for small animals during wildfires.

Australian Brush-turkey, Alectura lathami - endangered population. Australian Brush-turkey population in the Nandewar and Brigalow Belt South Bioregions Male brush turkeys rake up huge leafy mounds to entice females to lay their eggs deep inside the pile between August to February each year. They usually lay one egg every 2 to 5 days. The females do not stay around the mound once they have laid.

The male maintains the mound temperature to around 34 degrees Celsius by shifting around the composting material to incubate the eggs for 50 days. The mulch may hold around 20 eggs.

Chicks take 48 hours to dig themselves out to an independent life. They receive no further parental care. Unfortunately, they are very vulnerable to attack. On average, only one chick in every 200 eggs laid survives.

Australian Brush-turkey, Alectura lathami - endangered population. Australian Brush-turkey population in the Nandewar and Brigalow Belt South Bioregions

Manage brush turkeys in your garden

Brush turkeys are generally wary of humans. However, they can become very tame around picnic grounds and homes, particularly if they are fed. We don't recommend that you feed brush turkeys.

Brush turkeys can be destructive in gardens as they remove vegetation, earth and mulch to create incubation mounds.

How can you stop mound building?

Once a male brush turkey has started to build its mound it is extremely difficult to stop it. If a mound has been established for several weeks and the male is maintaining it, you should wait 60 days to allow eggs to hatch and young to emerge before dispersing it. To deter nesting in your garden in the future, use a combination of the following:

  1. Move the brush turkey on
    When the brush turkey first shows signs of nesting at a site, spray it early in the morning with a short burst of water from a garden sprinkler, a hand-held hose or spray bottle to move the bird on. Never try to harm the bird. Aim only for the chest. Try to hide from view, so it is the location the bird is wary of, not the person. Do not continually squirt or chase the bird as this is considered harassment and not permitted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. This is not to be done once eggs are laid because non-maintenance of the mound may result in the inhumane death of chicks.
  2. Create a more suitable location
    If a brush turkey is raking up the mulch and building a mound somewhere you don't want it, then set aside an area of your garden where you don't mind if the turkey builds it. Start an open compost or grass clippings pile to encourage the brush turkey to start building. Ideally, the replacement mound should be next to at least one large tree providing 80 to 95% shade. Dismantle the first mound daily, before any egg laying can take place. The brush turkey may be attracted to the new area and build there instead.
  3. Peg a cover over the mound
    To prevent the bird from working in an area, cover it in chicken wire or a heavy tarpaulin and weigh it down with large rocks or logs or use big tent pegs.
  4. Prune overhanging branches
    A brush turkey prefers a shady place for its nest because the temperature is easier to control. By pruning overhanging branches, it increases sunlight in the area and also removes places the brush turkey may choose to roost at night.
  5. Peg chicken wire in hot spots
    To keep your garden neat, use galvanised chicken mesh pegged about 20mm below the surface of the mulch.
  6. Use a different ground cover
    Put river gravel around the base of trees, and large eucalypt sticks, or other obstacles such as rocks in the ground around the plants. Plant low-growing, dense ground cover and remove overhanging branches so the area gets more sunlight.
  7. Never provide an easy feed
    Keep food scraps securely covered. To stop your vegetable garden being raked over, install a bird net over bamboo or wooden stakes to give it height. Peg the net down to make it taught so birds cannot become entangled. This may also keep possums out.

More information

If after trying several strategies a brush turkey is causing safety concerns, then contact your local National Parks and Wildlife Service Area office for advice.

Protection of native animals

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