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A beautiful brush turkey strutting proudly across the Scenic Drive into Bouddi National Park the other day must be one of the luckiest turkeys in Australia. Not only did he narrowly avoid being run over by my car, but, unlike domestic breeds, he wasn't destined for the oven.

Brush (aka scrub or bush) turkeys, big, black turkey-like birds native to Australia,  were once a favourite Christmas dish for pioneer settler families, but today they're a protected species, and anyone catching one would end up in court and be jailed or heavily fined. They're called brush turkeys because of their fox-like brush (tail.)

Aboriginal artist Janet Long Nakamarra describes them on the Jinta Art website: "The turkey flies down to the ground to have something to eat. [It] walks all day and eats insects, worms, seeds and berries. Turkeys are very hard to see because they camouflage themselves by standing amongst the spinifex and anthill trees. We get feathers from the turkey for ceremonies. We only get the white feathers. Then we tie the feathers onto a stick and put them on the head or put the feathers onto the dancing stick"

Sadly, not everyone admires bush turkeys. Here's a plaintive message from Patty Beecham, a Brisbane housewife who hosts an entertaining family website:

"The dreaded Bush Turkey, or Brush or Scrub Turkey, lives in the back of our garden.  It is a very common bird in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and builds a huge mound to incubate his eggs.  Yes, HIS eggs.  After attracting the female to lay her eggs, the male looks after the mound, checking the temperature daily, and adding mulch or raking stuff off, depending on the heat generated. Our backyard mound is about 5 metres across or 15 feet, and about 1.5metres high, or 4 feet.

"The chicks emerge at night, and the breeding season is around March, and as the Bush Turkey is a crescupular bird (meaning forages pre-dawn, late twilight) all you hear in bed in the morning is SCRATCH! SCRATCH! SCRATCH!.....knowing that damm bird is raking MY garden!

"You can hose it, chase it, shout at it, throw whatever at it....but it still rakes, scratches, rakes until dusk. The only thing is to actually transport it to another home, but the National Parks and Wildlife won't do this because the 'poor bird might not survive the removal and adaptation to its new environment!' Sheesh! Sometimes I could scream with frustration, as the Bush Turkey rakes up my garden, pulling out newly planted seedlings, and ripping up the more established plants searching for worms etc.

"This year I have three of them in my back garden. (sob)."


Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted February 2003

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