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BIRDS
Australian Brush Turkey
Bush Curlew
Southern Cassowary
AUSTRALIAN BRUSH TURKEY

Australian Brush Turkey
Photo © Ewa Meyer

(Alectura lathami)

Also known as the scrub turkey, wild turkey or wee-lah (Indigenous, Hunter Region)

The Australian brush turkey is one of three species in Australia known as the Megapodes, or 'mound builders.' All three species build mounds to incubate their eggs.

The Australian brush turkey is now a familiar sight right into the inner suburbs of Brisbane. However, the bird was hunted by the early settlers and during the 1930s Depression for food.

Description

  • Unmistakable bird with featherless red head, yellow wattle (loose skin around base of neck) and black body
  • The northern race purpureicollis has a blue wattle
  • Males and females look similar but during the breeding season, the male's wattle is larger
  • Adult birds are 60–75cm long with an 80cm wingspan
  • The average weight is 2274 g
  • Chicks have all-brown feathers for camouflage

Signs

  • The most obvious sign is the large mound of mulch and leaf litter.
  • Bush or garden beds surrounding the mound scraped clean

Habitat

  • Mainly tropical and subtropical rainforest but also occur in drier forest and suburban backyards
  • Main habitat requirements are plenty of leaf litter to build their mounds, a variety of fruits and seeds, and good undergrowth where the chicks can hide.

Australian Brush Turkey roost.
Photo © Ewa Meyer

Ecology

Breeding

All Megapodes, including the brush turkey, incubate their eggs in a large mound built and maintained by the male.

  • Mound generally 4m diameter and 1–1.5m high
  • Females dig a hole in the mound to deposit eggs that the male then covers over.
  • About 18–24 eggs are layed in a single mound by a variety of females.
  • Mound temperature affects the sex of the unhatched chicks. A normal temperature of 34 degrees produces equal ratio of sexes: lower temperatures produce more male chicks; higher temperatures more females.
  • The male uses heat sensors in his beak and test digs to check the temperature of the mound and maintain the temperature at 34 degrees.
  • The chicks hatch deep in the mound and take 40 hours to dig themselves out before they quickly find cover in the undergrowth.
  • Chicks fend for themselves and many are eaten by predators including raptors, kookaburras, goannas and cats.
  • Chicks hatch with well-developed flight feathers and roost at night high in trees for safety.

Food

  • A variety of fruits, seeds, insects and other invertebrates.
  • Scavenged bread and seeds attract birds to human habitats.
  • Adults feed throughout the day.

Behaviour

  • Scratch among leaves looking for food and run fast when disturbed.
  • Can sometimes be heard making soft grunts. Males have a deep three-noted booming call.
  • Roost in trees at night

Home range

  • Prefer to remain in a local areas but capable of moving long distances.
  • Males are very territorial around the mound, particularly during the breeding season

Distribution

  • The east coast of Australia from Cape York to south of Sydney.
  • Mainly occur along the coastal fringe, east of the Great Dividing Range, but with some populations in the drier areas west of the divide
  • There are two races of the Australian brush turkey, race purpureicollis that only occurs on Cape York and race lathami in the rest of its range.

Threats

  • Loss of their habitat due to land clearing
  • Urban areas encroaching into native vegetation brings turkeys into conflict with people.
  • Introduced predators, especially cats, kill many vulnerable brush turkey chick

Conservation

Conservation of this species depends on maintaining enough habitat with ample undergrowth and leaf litter, combined with public education, see Living with wildlife

Status

  • Brush turkeys are protected by law. They are regarded as common by government environment agencies.

Find out more

Goth. A. and Vogel. U. (2002) Chick survival in the megapode Alecturea lathami, (Australian Brush turkey) Wildlife Research. 29(5) 503 – 511
Goth. A. and Booth D. T. (2005) Temperature dependent sex ratio in a bird. Biology Letters. 1 (1) 31 -33.
NSW Government Factsheet - Australian brush turkey
Birds in Backyards Factsheet - Australian brush turkey
Queensland Government Factsheet - Australian brush turkey