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A photo of a Australian Brushturkey (Alectura lathami)
Australian Brushturkey

Australian Brushturkey

Alectura lathami

The Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), also known as the Australian brush-turkey or gweela, is a robust, black-feathered bird with a distinctive red head. It is the largest extant member of the Megapodiidae family and is found in eastern Australia. The bird is not closely related to American turkeys or the Australian bustard, despite superficial similarities. It measures approximately 60–75 cm in length with an 85 cm wingspan. The northern subspecies, A. l. purpureicollis, is slightly smaller and sports a purple wattle, contrasting with the yellow wattle of the more widespread nominate subspecies.

Identification Tips

Males can be identified by their larger, more vibrant wattles during breeding season, which swing as they run. The brushturkey's plumage is predominantly blackish, with a fan-like tail that is flattened sideways. The red head is bare, and the underside of the body is dotted with white feathers, more so in older birds. It is a clumsy flyer, taking to the air primarily when threatened or to roost.

Habitat

The Australian brushturkey is found in rainforests, wet sclerophyll forests, drier scrubs, and open areas. It is common at higher altitudes in the north and in both mountain and lowland regions in the south. Urban environments such as Brisbane and Sydney also host this adaptable bird.

Distribution

This species ranges from Far North Queensland to Eurobodalla on the South Coast of New South Wales and has been introduced to Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Behaviour

The brushturkey is known for its mound-building behavior, with dominant males constructing large nests on the ground from leaves, compostable material, and earth. These mounds are used by females for egg-laying. Males tirelessly defend and maintain these nests. The brushturkey is also known for its boldness in human-populated areas, often stealing food and raiding compost bins.

Breeding

Males build and maintain large compost mounds for females to lay eggs in, with the heat generated from composting regulating the incubation temperature. The sex ratio of chicks is affected by the temperature, with equal ratios at 34Β°C, more males when cooler, and more females when warmer. Chicks are precocial and fend for themselves immediately after hatching.

Similar Species

The Australian brushturkey is similar in appearance to the wattled brushturkey, Waigeo brushturkey, and malleefowl, but can be distinguished by its larger size and habitat preferences.

Diet and Feeding

Brushturkeys forage on the ground, raking up the leaf litter in search of food. They are omnivorous and have a varied diet.

Conservation status

The Australian brushturkey is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. It was once thought to be approaching extinction in the 1930s but is now fairly common. The species is fully protected in Queensland, with significant penalties for harming them. In New South Wales, fines for shooting a brushturkey can reach up to A$22,000.

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