Why substantial rain can equal lots of manic Turkeys destroying gardens


Our male, native Australian bush turkeys (also called scrub turkeys) get really excited if we get rain especially in July or August; they are driven by a deeply ingrained urge to build a nest mound and claim a territory. As the females will be ready to lay eggs in Spring, the males must start work about July to be sure he has a big mound and an established territory.

turkey possum

Turkeys scrape up surface material looking for a mixture of soil with organic matter that’s primarily leaf litter; the heaped material must decompose because that process produces the heat to incubate the eggs but it takes time for the heat to build up; the females wander by and inspect their efforts and may stick their beaks into the mound. Like the males, they have a heat sensor above their beak and so can judge the temperature inside, to decide if the male turkey nest-owner has got a good mix! So if suitably impressed, she may return to lay her eggs in the following months.

Most nests are built in partly shaded areas so the summer sun does not overheat the nest but the canopy of trees must have enough gaps to let some moisture and heat get through to the mound.

Have you noticed how hot the centre of a garden compost heap can get? The rotting organic vegetation produces heat providing there is one essential ingredient: moisture. This same process is used by our native turkey as the heat source to incubate their eggs. Since they usually only have dry leaf litter to work with, the male scrub turkey has to wait until there is a reasonably good rain event or several showers over a few days; that’s the only way he can get the essential moisture into the middle of his mound.

This egg incubation process is unique to a small group of birds called Megapodes, found only in Australia, Papua New Guinea and South America. These species have survived from an ancient group of Gondwanaland birds. This is even more remarkable when you consider that everything a bush turkey does to rear its young is genetically programmed.

While older birds are more skilled at picking a good site and finding good material, some urban turkeys will get moisture for a nest by using your favourite green garden plants, grass cuttings or even adapt your garden compost heap.  Their chicks can fly enough to get off the ground on their first day of life and the adults teach their young nothing! It’s a tough world but they have adapted to the Brisbane urban environment rather well!

We recommend trying to live in harmony with the native wildlife but if a turkey is making a mound in an unsafe place or destroying your whole garden we can relocate them under our wildlife permit. Give us a call to discuss your turkey.