At war with Turkey

black bird with red-yellow neck
Scrub Turkey under our mango tree. Note large feet.

Scrub Turkeys have been occasional visitors to our suburban garden for years, mostly hopping over our back fence for a few minutes to forage under the mango tree. We haven’t minded – they sometimes made a bit of a mess scratching in the litter, but that’s all. In the last couple of months, visitation ratcheted up a notch, with a couple of them apparently becoming full-time residents of our two back-door neighbours’ back yards (I can’t call them “gardens”) and spending more and more time on our side of the fence. We began to gently discourage them, not wanting a repeat of a friend’s experience: she lost almost all of her back garden for a year to a family who took up residence, built a mound and raised a family.

Scrub turkey in neighbours' back yard, the less desirable residential allotment
Scrub Turkey in our neighbours’ back yard, the less desirable residential allotment

Scrub Turkeys, Alectura lathami, are one of only three species of mound-builders (family Megapodiidae) in Australia. They are also commonly known as Bush or Brush Turkeys but so are the Orange-footed Scrubfowl, one of the other two mound-builders, and the unrelated Bustard; the third mound-builder is the Malleefowl, which lives in semi-arid regions of Southern Australia.

Males build large nesting mounds of vegetable material in which the eggs are incubated by the warmth of decomposition. The Scrub Turkey’s mounds can be a metre high and a couple of metres across (more information on wikipedia: megapodidae). They are semi-permanent and a loose group of the birds circulate around them.

Male scrub turkey on his mound in the Palmetum
Male scrub turkey on his mound in the Palmetum

Hostilities commence

Back to our own story: We were out all day on Sunday August 11th and came home to find that the male had been very busy, making a good start on a nesting mound amongst the banana plants and ripping up my one and only Pisang Ceylan, still only a metre tall, in the process.

heap of compost material
The new mound, late on Sunday 11 August; the Pisang Ceylan lies at the foot of the stake in the middle of the picture

I was not at all pleased about my banana plant, nor by the prospect of a mound in our garden. I used the last of the daylight to level it all off again and lay a loose grid of heavy timbers over the area he had occupied. He wasn’t going to scratch them up! I put my little banana into a pot for the time being. I gave it a less-than-even chance of surviving its trauma but there was no harm in trying. (In the next two weeks, it didn’t show any sign of life. RIP.)

grid of planks under banana plants
Obstacle course for mound builders, first version

Monday: The area between the bananas and the house got a good scratching but the mound didn’t get rebuilt. I did spend more time cleaning up and protecting its site, and I mixed up a chilli tea which I sprinkled where they had been foraging, in the hope that a beakful would make them re-evaluate their preference for our garden. I also collected some golf-ball sized palm seeds as environmentally friendly missiles to further discourage them.

Tuesday: They had been in the garden in the early morning but I sent them on their way before I had to leave for work. When I got home I found the male had discovered a heap of leaves at the foot of the poplar gum and spread it across the lawn between the frangipani and the macadamia. Still no mound, though! I tidied up the mess, adding the leaves to the compost heap under the mango tree rather than putting them back where they came from.

Wednesday morning was almost a repeat of Tuesday. The only difference was that the new mess was just around the compost heap so it was easier to clear up. Late in the day I saw one scrub turkey on our nature strip and another in our next-door neighbour’s garden. But they do seem to know they are unwelcome here, which is what we want.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Much the same as Wednesday – frequent brief incursions and mulch-scattering met by harassment, speedy departures and raking up.

Week 2 of the campaign

Monday 19th: The male took advantage of the deserted house and garden early in the day to begin rebuilding his mound, in the same spot under the bananas. He didn’t appear to care that he was building it on top of my grid of timbers. I got my exercise in the afternoon levelling it all off again.

My big surprise in doing this is finding just how much dirt is incorporated in the mound. I had expected that it would all be plant material but half of it by weight, perhaps one quarter of it by volume, is just plain dirt. Maybe the mound would get too hot and cook the eggs if there wasn’t some dirt to moderate the rate of decomposition?

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: repeats of Monday, except that the obstacle course I have constructed for the male is getting a little more challenging each time. The female hasn’t been around at all this week.

Friday: Victory? The first morning for nearly two weeks that I have checked the garden after breakfast and not found either a turkey at work or signs of early-morning incursions. No sightings during the morning, either … or the afternoon … it’s looking good!

Saturday: He’s back. We chased him away three times before 8.30 a.m.

Week 3 – 4

Sunday – Tuesday: Repeating the middle of last week. The ground under the bananas is now carpeted with old curtains held down by lumps of wood. Mound-building efforts are dwindling. I think that watering the area, which we generally do on weekends, attracts him, and that covering up his raw material is the best way to stop him making his nest.

Thursday: He was in the garden early in the morning but only to feed (no mound building) and didn’t come back after about 9.00.

Friday 30th – Thursday 5th: We’ve hardly seen him, and he has done no work at all on his mound since Friday. One theory is that he just couldn’t bear the screeching racket of the Rainbow Lorikeets and Honeyeaters feeding in the melaleuca and poplar gum above him, but the noise has dwindled in the last day or two and he still hasn’t come back.

Friday – Saturday: I was busy elsewhere and he took advantage of my absence, rebuilding his mound in exactly the same spot.

Sunday 8th Sept: I cleared away my obstacle course, levelled his mound and the area around it, gave it a good watering to keep the bananas alive, and covered it up again.

Monday – Friday 13: No turkey! I haven’t even seen him over the fence for a few days. I am not sure that he won’t return but am more optimistic each day. I won’t water the banana patch this weekend, because he does like damp material to work with.

If he has given up, the main reason will be that I have limited his access to mound-building material by covering it up or removing it. Letting it dry out has made it less attractive to him, and harassing him by yelling and throwing things in his general direction has also made the garden a less desirable residence to him and, apparently, the girlfriend who gave up far earlier than he did.

5 thoughts on “At war with Turkey”

  1. Update, Friday 27.9.13
    The good news is that the little banana plant is tougher than I had thought and has – after looking quite dead for weeks – put out a whole new leaf.
    The not-so-good news is that the turkey came back this morning for the first time (as far as we know) in a fortnight.
    How does the litany go?
    I am firm, my friend can be stubborn and my enemy is pig-headed?
    Something like that.

      1. I’m tempting fate by saying this, I know, but I haven’t seen him again over the last three weeks and I have gradually been returning the area to normality. The obstacle course has mostly gone, watering has resumed, the area has been levelled and – very recently – I have put in some new plants between the bananas and the fence. Fingers crossed!

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