08 July 2009

big backyard birds

Brush turkeys are native to Australia, but we aren't allowed to eat them. From ABC
Back from the bush: turkeys hit Sydney backyards
By Kathryn Stolarchuk for The World Today

Posted 8 July 2009

Here to stay: the indefatigable brush turkey. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Brush turkeys have been invading suburban Sydney on a scale not seen since the ibis moved in many years ago.

The large, aggressive birds are playing havoc with gardens, frightening pets, eating their food and building huge mounds.

But the experts are warning they are here to stay; it is illegal to eat a protected native species and people should get used to them.

The brush turkey is a ground-dwelling bird about 70 centimetres long that lives exclusively in the Australasian region of the world.

Dr Ann Goeth is a senior threatened species officer with the Department of Environment and Climate Change and also one of the world's leading authorities on the local birds.

She believes the turkeys are moving into suburban areas of Sydney for a number of reasons, including the drought.

"They also find a lot of food in the kind of mulch and gardens that people provide," she said.

"A lot of people indirectly attract these birds as well by either providing compost heaps where the birds can feed from, they have bird feeders, which brush-turkeys really like as well, or they might leave their pet food out on the back porch, which brush turkeys really like to eat as well."

Gardener's nightmare

Geoff Ross, a wildlife management officer with New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife, says the birds are also making a mess of backyards.

"This species are megapodes, which means they build mounds," he said.

"So the males incubate the eggs laid by females in these large mounds of garden material that's effectively breaking down and providing heat and that incubates the eggs.

"We're seeing a lot more of these mounds around the inner-urban areas now - one reporting of an instance in Mosman.

"Mounds are being located in Epping, Lane Cove and places like that on the North Shore. So they are gradually moving into those urban interfaces."

Mr Ross says it is this building of the mounds and their propensity to destroy flower beds with their enthusiastic scratching that makes the turkeys the enemy of local gardeners.

"They'll scratch up a lot of backyards' garden material to build that mound, particularly with people who have spent a lot of resources in maintaining a natural urban bushland, then of course brush turkeys will avail themselves of that very natural area and start building mounds in that backyard," he said.

But Dr Anne Goeth reminds people that brush turkeys are a native species and protected by law.

"So you're not allowed to catch them. You're also not allowed to actually destroy these mounds when there is eggs in there because you would destroy the eggs and the chicks," she said.

No Christmas turkey

And she says you are definitely not allowed to put them on the barbie.

"I mean they're big birds, big turkeys and obviously it's easier to shoot one of those than buy something if you are hungry, but hopefully that's not happening anymore these days," she said.

"I've been told it's quite tough. I have never eaten them myself, of course."

Mr Ross recommends that instead people learn to be tolerant of their new neighbours.

"Now if you do have a mound you can seek National Parks' guidance on how to deal with that mound in your back garden," he said.

"If it's particularly impacting upon you or your family, we can offer things like we give you a permit that will allow you to cover the mound with a tarpaulin and so the male can't work the mound, or you can cover it with mesh.

"You can use sprinklers to divert the male's attention away from the mound. Things like that, particularly now that we're allowed to hose our gardens again."

He says Sydneysiders worried about the turkeys should follow the example of their Queensland counterparts.

"They are here to stay and it's one of being able to adapt to them being there and of course, this is nothing new for those people who live north of the border in Queensland," he said.

"Brush turkeys are an everyday occurrence in the backyards of all Brisbane residents and residents on the Gold Coast.

"So wherever you reside in those warmer coastal areas you get a few brush turkeys and again in Sydney they're just recapturing, if you like, those habitats they used to live in before."

I think it would be cool to have one in the backyard.

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