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Talking Turkey in Tropical Rainforest

Alpha male Brush-turkey

The first prohibition on eating the Australian brush-turkey is, for those of us who live nearby and become fascinated by them, it would seem like the betrayal of a friend.

The second reason, as anyone who tries to prepare this wild bird for the pot soon discovers, the carcass stinks and the cooked flesh tastes foul.

In days long-gone, my partner was of the 'duck hunting fraternity.' He came home one night with what we then called a 'scrub turkey.' He did all the plucking and gutting but struck out on getting me to cook it. The only option was to bury it in the garden. Soon after, my partner found he no longer enjoyed shooting anything but soda cans, lined up on a fence.

  • In our present backyard, Kookaburra, Drongo, Butcher birds, skinks and a blue tongue lizard enjoy treats taken from our hands or a feeding perch built for them. All are wild animals, having no reliance on us for their daily diet. Like us Humans, they just enjoy an occasional free treat.

In August, a family of brush-turkey joined the fun. We'd glimpsed them visiting the enclosure next door, where they mingled with our neighbours' chickens. When a shopping experiment left us with an unwanted loaf of bread, my partner tore it into chunks and spread them in the belt of rainforest bordering our back garden.

  • Within days, we saw one turkey approach the house, pecking at the his reflection in the tinted windows. After sundown, he was back, peering in to follow our movements in the lighted interior.

A box of rolled oats, left over from winter, seemed a possible treat for our new arrival. We poured some oats into a bowl fitted with buffers of felt glued to its underside. This stopped its clatter against the patio bricks as the big bird dipped into the oats. Of course, we named him 'Chook-chook' for the way he took to feeding like the chickens.

  • Only as his companions joined him, did we realise how disrespectful we'd been. 'Chook-chook' made his rank clear as he chased the sub-ordinate male and the hen, every time they ventured from the forest and approached the bowl of oats. My partner, a true Aussie bloke, couldn't stand by while this bullying went on. He'd get between 'Chook-chook' and the others, distracting the bossy Alpha male so the other two could get their share of the food.

As often happens, the under-dog outsmarted the 'boss.' It managed to balance on a post of the metal fence around our swimming pool, no mean feat for a megapode like the brush-turkey. 'Red' – named for his bald head – brought off this trick by planting one foot on the post-top while clinging to the side rail with the other. We could sense his smug grin as the bossy bird kept his distance, put off by the presence of 'Red's' human guard. In time, my partner was unable to resist taking a bowl of oats with him on guard duty and holding it out for 'Red.' see pictures here

  • As October rolled in the breeding season, 'Chook-chook' grew his yellow wattle to double its size and brightened its colour to seduce the hen. She disappeared for two weeks, returning with not a feather out of place. More weeks have passed without 'Chook-chook' and we hope it means that, like all good mound-building father-birds, he's busy minding their chicks.©Dorothy Gauvin

Fossil finds in south-east Queensland tell of a much larger megapode from the Pleistocene era. ['Field Guide to Birds of Australia' Simpson & Day]

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