Monday, 24 December 2007

Terrible Turkeys

Dominant male Brush Turkey with hs Rakings

A subdominant male Brush Turkey

A swath of rakings that Mr Turkey insists must be in just this spot!

Terrible Turkeys

The Australian Brush (not Bush) Turkey, Alectura lathami, is the curse of every gardener from Gosford, New South Wales to Cape York Queensland. These birds are magapodes and are only very distantly related to the turkey of North America, Brush-turkey But many a person has wished to be able to put these birds on the table as a punishment for the damage they cause.

Megapodes are mound builders—chicken-like birds with big feet suitable to raking and scraping,Megapodes they are common residents of many places in Australasia EAST of Wallace’s Line, Wallace Line. Each species except the Malleefowl live in jungle or woodland habitats where they build large mounds of leaves and detritus. Depending on the species, these can be up to 5 m by 3 m high. They are used over and over again and may be used by succeeding dominant males. Eggs are laid within the mounds and are dependent upon the temperature of the mound to develop. The male can regulate the temperature by adding or subtracting leaves and mulch. The have temperature-sensitive organs on the head to determine this.

Problems with Brush Turkeys and humans occur when the turkey decides to rake clean the garden bed of all its mulch and leaf litter. This is often just a matter of dominance. The dominant male in our neighbourhood has been raking the same spot for weeks and weeks. For some peculiar reason that the turkey does not understand, I don’t want a pile of leaves in my driveway and I rake them back into the rainforest. Within minutes they are thrown back on the driveway just the way he wanted them. This goes on repeatedly. Sometimes I rake this pile 4 times a day.

An equally difficult situation develops during the dry season when the birds are a bit stressed for food. They dig up- garden plants—only the really desirable ones! This year seems to be the worse one on record for this activity. Full grown Heliconia plants have fallen to the birds. They eat the flowers and then dig up the plants and eat the roots. Any really important plants have to be enclosed with chicken wire.

But we wouldn’t be without them! These birds have strong, individual personalities and we can tell each of the 9 residents of our block apart from one another both by the size, shape and colour of their feet and their personalities. The same dominant male (with the long wattle) has been a resident here as long as we have. He bangs on the glass door several times a day for handouts and is not keen on waiting. He regularly throws sandals out in the driveway and overturns pot plants if he is kept waiting too long. And although mostly ground birds, the do fly and spend their nights high in the treetops away from predators. With the option to fly, no bird feeder escapes their detection and they clean out the contents in a matter of minutes. What perseverance!

Long live the Brush Turkey!

1 comment:

Camera Trap Codger said...

What I want to know is this: has the brush turkey inspired an Ozzie curse? Like "May a thousand brush turkeys infest your garden!"

I can see you out there raking brush turkey leaves like a madman, and I am still chuckling.

Good posts this day of Xmas eve, and

Merry Christmas to you and Barbara!