Assets with Eyes

Australian Brush-turkey on a mission

08 Oct 2020

If you frequent Louise Sauvage Pathway alongside Narawang Wetland, you may have noticed a large Australian bird hard at work! A male Australian Brush-turkey is constructing the first mound at Sydney Olympic Park and like most Turkeys – he is hard-wired to construct this mound and will not be easily deterred once started!

Turkey mounds are amazing creations; they can reach 1m high and 4m wide with material sourced from a large radius. As the vegetation decomposes, heat is created to incubate eggs. The male is a superb composter, maintaining a constant temperature of 33 - 38°C by digging holes and inserting his beak as a probe. His palate acts as a thermometer, and, depending on the temperature he senses, he removes or adds leaf-litter as needed; when the mound is too hot, he scrapes leaves off the top and when the mound is too cold he piles the leaves on.

Female Brush-turkeys lay eggs in mounds from August to December and can lay up to about 24 in a breeding season. However, only about one Turkey out of every 200 eggs will survive to adulthood due mainly to predation. Chicks hatch underground and burrow out of the mound by laying on their backs and scraping at soil with their feet to exit the mound; usually taking two days to dig their way to surface. These hatchlings are fully feathered and are able to fend for themselves immediately, as well as fly within just a few hours after emerging from the mound.

Brush-turkeys feed on invertebrates, seeds and fallen fruits, which are exposed by raking the leaf litter their large feet. This behaviour brings multiple benefits by aerating and enriching soil and providing a natural means of pest control.

If a Turkey mound is located in or near a garden, no single method of deterrence has yet proved effective in stopping males from stripping the mulch away. Brush-turkeys and their eggs are protected by law, like all native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Prevention is better than cure – if you have an Australian Brush-turkey eying your garden for a nest site, there are steps you can take to protect both your beloved plants and these amazing Turkeys.

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Male Australian Brush-turkey showing off his yellow wattle to attract females © Jen O’Meara

 Male Australian Brush-turkey at the early stages of mound building © Stuart Comer

The male works hard to build and maintain the mound, keeping it at the right temperature to incubate eggs.