The Bush Turkey family of the Spit’s famed Federation Walk are another layer to our magnificent Main Beach Kaleidoscope
Mr and Mrs Bush Turkey
Federation Walk and the Spit – Main Beach
Favourite thing about Main Beach: The friendly people and the plentiful worms
Federation Walk – The Spit
The “Brush Turkey” is also known as “Bush or Scrub turkeys.” Mr and Mrs Turkey have a large family here in Main and contribute significantly to the Main Beach Wild Life experience.
They are a large sometime stroppy bird that grows to 60–75 cm long and a wingspan of 85 cm. Males and females are a similar sized. Their colouring is predominantly blue-black, with grey-edged breast feathers and featherless deep red head and neck.. They have an upright fanlike tail and very strong legs.
The male brush-turkey has a large, bright yellow wattle that hangs from its neck, while the female’s is smaller and paler.
Chicks don’t look much like their parents, as they’re small, plump birds with rich brown feathers. They grow fast, and within a few months a chick will have the dull blue-black plumage and the characteristic upright tail. Its head and neck will have become a featherless rich pink.
Life history and behaviour
The brush-turkey will breed at any time of the year, but most breeding occurs from September to December.
The male brush-turkey builds a mound of plant litter and soil, adding or removing material to keep it at a constant temperature of 33 degrees Celsius. A mound is usually about 2–4 m across and 1 m high.
The male spends many hours each day building and maintaining his mound. He will defend his mound and will only allow a female onto it when he thinks it’s the right temperature.
The number of females that lay eggs in the mound and the number of times they visit depends on his skill in keeping the mound at the right temperature. If the mound is the right temperature, females will return many times to mate and lay eggs.
A brush-turkey will take a large mouthful of the mound to check whether it’s at the right temperature. They have highly accurate heat sensors inside their upper bill. When the temperature is too high, the male will rake material off the top layer to allow heat to escape. If the temperature is too low, the male will heap more material onto the mound to build its insulation. Watching a brush-turkey build and take care of its mound is fascinating and gives suburban dwellers an insight into the life of a unique Australian animal.
Up to 24 eggs are put into holes about half a metre deep in the mound and then covered. The male brush-turkey keeps watch while the eggs incubate, making sure the temperature is just right and keeping any predators at bay. After approximately 50 days the chicks hatch and are immediately independent.
Introduced predators, goannas, snakes and in-ground swimming pools all make life hard for young brush-turkeys and the mortality rate is high. The chance of an egg becoming an adult brush-turkey is as little as one in 200!
While brush-turkeys may look slow while scratching among leaves looking for food, they can move fast when disturbed. They eat insects, native fruits and seeds. Adult birds feed throughout the day, while young birds forage in the pre-dawn light and in the twilight to avoid predators.
While generally a quiet bird, the brush-turkey sometimes makes soft grunts. Males have a deep three-noted booming call.
Brush Turkeys are unusual in that they will join forces to kill a snake, circling and stamping their feet whilst drawing closer to their hapless victim.