Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Megapodiidae
Genus: Alectura Latham, 1824
Species: Alectura lathami
Size: 85cm height, 70cm wing-span, 2.2kg weight

Alectura lathami, variously called Australian bush turkey, brush turkey, scrub turkey, wild turkey. It is a large bird with a fan-like tail flattened sideways. Its feathers are mainly blackish with a bare red head, and a yellow or purple wattle. Male birds have a neck without feathers, females are covered with small dark bristles. The male's wattle becomes much larger and brighter during breeding season. The underside of the body is patterned with white feathers, more white in older birds. The brush turkey is the largest of Australia's three megapodes.

It inhabits rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests, but can also be found in drier scrubs. Its range extends along eastern Australia, from Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, south to the northern suburbs of Sydney and the Illawarra region of New South Wales. In the northern part of its range, the Australian Brush-turkey is most common at higher altitudes, but some move to the lowland areas in winter months. In the south, it is common in both mountain and lowland regions. Where they come into contact with humans in national parks, brush-turkeys will often attempt to steal food from picnic tables.

These are are communal birds, and have communal nests. A typical group consists of a dominant male, one or more younger males and several females. They build large nests on the ground made of leaves, other combustible material and earth, 1 to 1.5 metres high and up to 4 metres across. The eggs are hatched by the heat of the composting mound which is tended only by the males who regulate the temperature by adding or removing material in an effort to maintain the temperature of the mound in the 33-35°C incubation temperature range . The Australian Brush-turkey checks the temperature by sticking its beak into the mound. As with some reptiles, incubation temperature affects the sex ratio of chicks, which is equal at 34°C but results in more males when cooler and more females when warmer (p=0.035). It is unclear whether the parents use this to manipulate the sex of their offspring by, for instance, selecting the nesting site accordingly. Warmer incubation also results in heavier, fitter chicks, but how this is linked to gender is unknown. The same nesting site is frequently used year after year, the old ones being added to each breeding season.

The average clutch of eggs is between 16 and 24 large white eggs, which are laid September to March. Sometimes up to 50 eggs laid by several females may be found in a single mound. The eggs are placed in a circle roughly 60–80 cm down, 20–30 cm apart, always with the large end up. After seven weeks the newly hatched young dig themselves out of the mound and then have to watch out for themselves. The hatchlings are fully feathered and are able to fly just a few hours after hatching.

They sometimes nest in suburban gardens and will move large amounts of mulch to maintain their nests. The Brush-turkey flies clumsily with heavy flapping when it is frightened and roosts in trees at night and during the heat of the day. Brush-turkey eggs are a favourite food of goannas, snakes, dingoes and dogs and once were a staple of Aboriginal Australians. Often goannas exhibit wounds on their tails of having been pecked by ferocious Brush-turkeys defending their nests.

Brush-turkeys feed on insects, seeds and fallen fruits, which are exposed by raking the leaf litter or breaking open rotten logs with their large feet. The majority of food is obtained from the ground, with birds occasionally observed feeding on ripening fruits among tree branches.

Brush" tur`key (?). Zool.

A large, edible, gregarious bird of Australia (Talegalla Lathami) of the family Megapodidae. Also applied to several allied species of New Guinea.

⇒ The brush turkeys live in the "brush," and construct a common nest by collecting a large heap of decaying vegetable matter, which generates heat sufficient to hatch the numerous eggs (sometimes half a bushel) deposited in it by the females of the flock.


© Webster 1913.

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