The brush-turkey is an Aussie battler – and it needs your help | Alicia Burns | Environment

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It’s hard not to look at the brush turkey as the avian archetype of the Aussie battler – persisting and thriving, even though the odds are stacked against it. These birds’ work ethic in the face of almost impossible living conditions, environmental hardship and sometimes outright hostility is truly something to behold.

And without diminishing the likely (and deserved) victory of the majestic white ibis in this year’s Bird of the Year poll, it must be said that this year there has also been a lot of talk about – and love and loathing aimed at – the Australian brush turkey.

It is indeed one of the most remarkable birds on the planet. The largest living member of the megapodes (the Bigfoot of the bird world), brush turkeys have remained almost unchanged for tens of thousands of years. When researching dinosaurs, scientists looked towards the humble turkey to get an idea of how the dinosaurs may have reared their young. Which is to say – they don’t.

Baby brush turkeys enter the world buried under a metre of compost and have to dig their way out on their own. After that initial struggle, you’d think mum or dad might be waiting with an earful of encouragement, or at least a mouthful of food, but that’s not the case. If the chick is lucky enough to encounter dad (the master mound builder), it’s as likely to be kicked away as it is ignored.

Brush turkey chicks are completely on their own – confronted by cats, dogs, foxes, birds of prey and the hefty station wagon. It’s a wonder they make it to adulthood at all, but make it they do. And as anyone with an azalea or two can tell you, their numbers are on the rise.

If you’ve taken a stroll on north side of Sydney harbour recently, no doubt you’ve come across the mighty mound builders making their homes in the well-manicured gardens of Sydney’s north shore. Turkeys gained legal protection in the 1970s and, since then, have taken to reclaiming not only the bush but the cities – which are dangerous playgrounds for independent turkey chicks.

In the past decade there has been an increase in the number of urban turkeys colonising south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales. This “turkey tsunami” is flooding urban areas and we’re aiming to find out why.

Over the next few years, Taronga Conservation Society, the Royal Botanic Garden and the University of Sydney will be teaming up to try to understand how brush turkeys have adapted so quickly to urban environments and what makes them geared towards urban life. The project, led by the PhD student Matt Hall, will tag turkeys in an effort to understand their population dynamics, movement patterns and general social behaviour.

We’ll be placing GPS transmitters on birds to track their movements through the urban jungle – but we need your help. Using the Wingtags app for Android and iOS, turkey fans can report sightings of tagged birds, to help us find out who’s going where.

We’ll also be keeping track of untagged birds and mounds via the email address brush.turkey2@gmail.com and on social media @Wingtags – so please let us know if you find any. This information will not only help us gain a better understanding of the behaviour of this incredible species but also help to inform future management decisions.

In the meantime, try to be kind to the brush turkeys you encounter – they are just another breed of Aussie battler, after all.



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