Diary of a brush turkey

It was about three weeks ago when the brush turkey first appeared outside of our apartment block. He tentatively scratched the ground picking up a grub here and there, his low-hanging yellow wattle swollen with new house owner pride. The next day he was back to create and properly move into “number 31” of our block. His yellow wattle busily swayed from side to side as he set to scraping up grass, leaves, mulch and twigs from the lawns and bordering beds into what soon became a very decent nesting mound, towering higher than our community garden’s compost pile (which by the way took us much longer to erect!). During the initial days of building he never seemed to leave the nest for longer than a few minutes. When busy in a corner further away he regularly interrupted his scraping to sprint to the nest – to check everything was ok? – and quickly to return to further scraping, and the same over and over again. His Strava stats would have been impressive.

His nest is an impressive site of roughly three by one meter located in the shade of two old paperbark trees. What may sound like a secluded setting away from the traffic and curious onlookers is right next to the footpath, separated only by a fence.

The initial (small) pile
The initial (small) pile

After the initial mound was established he slowed down his work – which was in favour of the nearby clivias whose roots took a bit of a beating. He also went to another bed that is separated by a footpath only to empty its soil onto the footpath. Good he has us working for him and cleaning up his mess. Brush turkeys are protected animals so hefty fines apply if we’d harm him. Also, they are apparently very difficult to persuade to give up their mounds or move their nest elsewhere once they have started building it – so best to just live with and manage him.

Judging by his big wattle he is an older bird and seems to know exactly what he is doing. So managing him means we leave him to it and in the interest of the other 30 units manage the mess he occasionally leaves behind. The best time without unnecessarily disturbing him is in the early evenings once he has left the mound to roost up in a tree. We are yet to find his roosting tree(s) as he can’t be seen anywhere in the ones in the immediate vicinity. Occasionally during the day he flies up into the tree right above the nest, but it’s not where he spends the night.

His mound of course has not gone unnoticed and rumors of it attracting rats and snakes have already started circulating. Surely he’d be the last to want rats and snakes around to threaten the eggs. It seems his enemies might be more of human than animal nature as he guards the mound and makes sure it has the right temperature as its material is decomposing to incubate the eggs.

The impact of his mound maintenance and continuous scraping for new material on the surrounding beds cannot be denied and there is some damage: Clivia roots lie uncovered, a few of the tender young plants were uprooted and quite a bit of soil and leaf litter moved – it’s a big nest after all. However, as we’re not growing any prize vegetables all uncovered plants seem to be replaceable – at minimal costs, too, as the local council provides some native ground covers for free. At present the brush turkey’s fate is undecided as the strata committee is yet to decide what to do (or not). Is it a bad omen that my sign “Please don’t disturb the brush turkey nest” was thrown away?

The established brush turkey nest
The established brush turkey nest

Wish him luck that he may nest in peace. Especially because he has been visited by females and there are most certainly eggs in the mound!

The ladies generally turn up early in the morning. I have seen him “lead” a female to the mound. Other mornings he just stands on top of the nest waiting for them to turn up. There are usually one or two ladies who visit, one morning there were even three! Only one female at a time seems to be allowed to join him on the mound. What exactly happens then remains a mystery as it is exactly when I need to leave for work (bad timing indeed). The other day though I caught him and a female on the mound.

She was busy taking it apart, digging so deep that steam emerged from the deeper layers. ‘Surely she must be so close to actually laying an egg’ I thought and got the iPhone out…

I stood patiently and filmed for what seemed an eternity. It might have been me intruding on this moment but she appeared to be more interested in digging than laying an egg – a behaviour he didn’t seem to appreciate either. We since refer to her as the “the crazy female” (but maybe that’s just the way the ladies behave 😉 ?). Or maybe the other female parading the fence got her chance after all?

What happens in the mornings between Mr. & Mrs. Brush Turkey clearly remains family business, but let’s hope they were successful and we will soon have brush turkey chicks emerging from the nest.

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