Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre logo

Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

Experience Engage Enable

Telephone02 9816 1298

Brush turkey

Brush turkeys

What are brush turkeys?

Brush turkeys are a medium to large sized bird found along most of the east coast of Australia. They are also known as the bush turkey or scrub turkey. Despite being named a turkey, they are not closely related to the type of turkeys that we eat. 

Brush turkeys are a type of bird called a megapode which means big feet. The scientific name for the brush turkey is Alectura lathami.

What do brush turkeys look like?

Both male and female brush turkeys have black feathers and a bald, red head. The male also has a yellow piece of skin hanging down from below its neck. This is called a wattle. The male’s wattle gets bigger and brighter when he is trying to attract a partner.

What sound do they make?

Brush turkeys don’t sing, but they do make a deep 'bock bock' sound - a bit like the sound of a bass drum.

Can brush turkeys fly?

You might have only seen brush turkeys walking, but they can fly. Most of their day is spent on the ground in the leaf litter, but they will fly if they are threatened, or to roost in a tree at night.

What do brush turkey nests look like?

Brush turkey nests are called mounds and they can be up to the size of a small car! The male turkeys rakes leaves and soil into a pile with their strong claws and legs. They work especially hard on adding to the mound during the breeding season which goes from about August to March. The mound of organic matter slowly breaks down releasing heat which helps to incubate the eggs.

When there are eggs in the mound, the male turkey can keep them at a consistent temperature by raking more leaves on top to warm it up, or less leaves to cool it down. More than one female might lay eggs in the mound. There can be up to 50 eggs in one mound.

What happens if a brush turkey makes a mound in your backyard?

Brush turkey mounds are very big and the male turkey will rake up everything loose to make them including garden beds, mulch, plants and grass. This can really make a mess!

One way to stop a turkey from building a mound is to place chicken wire on the ground so it cannot rake. You can dismantle an old mound, but don’t disturb it during breeding season as it may already have eggs in it.

How are brush turkeys important to Aboriginal peoples?

Aboriginal peoples around Australia eat both brush turkeys and their eggs. They also feature in dream-time stories from different Aboriginal groups.

What role do brush turkeys play in the ecosystem?

Brush turkeys play an important role in the food web. They eat and keep down the number of invertebrates and their eggs are food for goanas, snakes, dingos and some humans. 

What do brush turkeys eat?

Brush turkeys are omnivores which means they eat both plants and animals. Most of their diet is made up of invertebrates that they rake up in the leaf litter. They also eat the berries, fruit and seeds from plants when they fall onto the ground.

How are brush turkeys adapted to their environment?

Brush turkeys spend their lives in the leaf litter habitat. Brush turkeys have adapted to this environment with big strong legs for raking up leaves on the ground. Their claws are long and sharp, a bit like the metal prongs on a garden rake. This makes them very effective at moving huge amounts of leaf litter to build very big nests and it also helps them find invertebrates in the soil to eat.

What is the life cycle of brush turkeys?

Like most birds, brush turkeys start off their life as an egg. When the egg hatches, the chicks have to dig their way out of the mound using their strong legs and claws. The chicks are fully independent straight away and can feed and fly within a couple of hours. Brush turkeys do not develop their wattle until they are ready to mate.

What threats are there to brush turkeys?

Brush turkey eggs are eaten by goannas who dig them out of the mounds. The male brush turkeys defend the eggs by flicking leaves at the goannas and biting them on the tail. Brush turkeys are hunted by dingos, domestic dogs and cats and sometimes humans. They can also be hit by cars. Near fishing spots brush turkeys can get fishing line caught around their legs.

Should you feed brush turkeys?

Brush turkeys eat invertebrates, seeds and fruits and don't need to be fed by people. Human food can make them very sick. If brush turkeys are fed by people it can result in them becoming very persistent in trying to steal food from your lunch.


Related content