The Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) is an endemic Australian bird species from the Megapode family. Birds in the Megapode family are also known as mound-builders. Brush-turkeys occur naturally in rainforests and woodlands, where they forage by raking through leaf litter and soil for fruit, seeds, insects, lizards, and almost anything edible. Despite being poor fliers, they are capable runners and climbers.
What sets them apart from other birds is their unique reproductive behaviour. Rather than incubating their eggs with their body heat, Brush-turkey males construct huge nest mounds out of soil and leaf litter, often weighing up to 3 tonnes. The breakdown and decomposition of this material produces heat that keeps the buried eggs around 33°C. Once the chicks hatch they are completely independent of their parents and are capable of forging and flight from day one.
Once hunted for food and sport, the Brush-turkey disappeared from around major cities and towns during the Great Depression (1930s). Over the recent decades the Brush-turkey has made a dramatic comeback, appearing even in the most urbanised suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane. How this forest bird has not only spread into suburbia but thrived in these highly altered environments is a complete mystery.
As populations increase, Brush-turkeys are raising the ire of many suburban homeowners as they forage and construct nest mounds in their gardens. The returned Brush-turkey populations in urban areas need to be better understood, especially as calls for their management increase. This project aims to engage keen bird watchers and the general public to report sightings of Brush-turkeys. Their whereabouts, behaviours, communal roosts, and nest mounds are all of interest to researchers at The University of Sydney, Taronga Conservation Society, and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.
The data collected will help scientists understand Brush-turkey distribution, behaviour, movements, reproduction, and habitat use in suburban areas and how these differ compared birds in their natural habitat.
The project is running on the SPOTTERON Citizen Science platform, more information at: www.spotteron.net