The Australian brush turkey, or bush turkey, or scrub turkey is not a beautiful bird. But, as I have learnt recently, it possesses many other qualities that demand one sits up and takes notice.
They are industrious: at the start of spring the males build incredible nests – large mounds that can be 4 metres wide and up to 1.5 metres high – in which the female bush turkey lays her eggs.
They are striking, in a bizarre looking, “Oh, get a load of that!” kind of way. Prehistorical facial features, bulbous body, a red head and neck, and a yellow collar, which, on males, can be iridescently bright and dangle, at some length. (This is called a ‘wattle’ and swings from side to side as he struts from place to place. Lovely.)
They are nurturing. It’s the male that takes care of the eggs once the female lays them. And it’s the male that makes sure conditions within the mound are at their optimum – approximately 33 degrees Celsius, which he tests by “sampling” a section of mulch from inside the mound. If he thinks his mound is getting too hot, he jumps on top of it and scratches off some of the leaf material, and if it’s too cool, he’ll scrape some more mulch onto the top. Ingenious!
They are protective. Male bush turkeys will defend the eggs from all sorts of predators: dingoes, snakes, lizards, feral pigs, and dogs.
They are, also, a right pain in the arse!
The fact that the title of this post could have read, ‘Bush turkey 100 – Autistic man 0’, tells you all you need to know about the magnitude of my defeat to the bush turkey that decided to turn our backyard into its version of a five-star hotel, complete with all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast.
I like birds. I used to like bush turkeys – I see them regularly on my walks along the river and through the tracks not far from my house.
But now, my relationship is, well, complicated.
It’s impossible to live in Brisbane and not know something about bush turkeys, including that if they come to visit, you can find yourself with one ill-mannered house guest.
They’re a protected species along much of Australia’s east coast and have adapted well to living amongst us two-legged creatures largely because of their own shrinking natural habitats.
But their population isn’t shrinking, and that’s why increasing amounts of bush turkeys have started calling your (and my!) home, their home, too.
When, almost two months ago, my wife and I looked out our kitchen window to see a bush turkey scratching about in the significant amount of mulch in our back yard and it scurried away with a honk (yes, they honk) when I approached it, I didn’t think too much of it. In the seven years we’ve lived in our current house, I’ve discouraged other bush turkeys from foraging in our yard, and never seen them again after that moment.
The difference this time was that I found that the bird in question had scratched and dug approximately 35 shallow holes – around our fruit trees and other plants, and amongst the plastic pipes and rises of our irrigation system.
In short, it had created quite the battlefield.
Gone now, I set to checking there wasn’t any damage to the sprinkler heads and lines where the bird had been scratching, filling in the holes and respreading the scattered mulch it had haphazardly strewn across the garden.
It was the next morning, when I woke and went downstairs for my morning walk and discovered almost 50 new holes, throughout the front and back gardens, that true panic descended upon me.
This time the bush turkey had inflicted some damage. Not to the irrigation system thankfully, as that would have been costly, but to some of the plants I had lovingly tended to for several years.
There was, however, no sign of the beady-eyed culprit. But I knew now I wouldn’t be rid of this bird as easily as I had the others.
Instantly riddled with anxiety, I walked the perimeter looking for the beginnings of the mound in which my newly established feathered enemy would further populate its species, but found only a rather ominous-looking large area of excavation amongst a section of shady bamboo I had planted.
Is this the chosen site? I wondered. Is this the beginnings of what I can expect?
Panic turned to complete meltdown as I returned upstairs (having not walked any further than my front yard) and explained repeatedly to my wife the situation.
I felt, at the time, as though this bird had targeted me personally. I told my wife, again repeatedly, how I couldn’t take it, how much work this would cause me, how we could end up living with this thing indefinitely.
Google! I jumped on Google and searched for “bush turkey in yard”. What I read, about how belligerent (another quality bush turkeys possess: their wilfulness) these birds are, how destructive, how costly, sent me into a complete frenzy from which I wouldn’t emerge for several hours. (Honestly, weeks later, I’m still consumed by it; obsessed. Even the sound of something like a bird entering the yard, or the scratching of claw on mulch – the scurrying of an innocent lizard, for example – sends me rushing into the back yard to catch the hideous turkey in the act.)
My once beautiful garden looked like gophers had ransacked it. I drove to the big-name hardware monopoly we’re all tethered to here in Australia and purchased, at considerable cost, a 50-metre roll of chicken wire, and scores of stakes, having read that chicken wire is a form of kryptonite to the simple bush turkey.
I filled in the holes and raked the mulch and laid the wire for hours beneath the blazing Brisbane sun, covering every section of yard that I was able to.
Within two hours of finishing my mornings labour, the bird was back – scratching about, ignoring the wire, digging and scratching and helping itself to the plethora of natural abundance my yard had to offer, as if the chicken wire was a mere inconvenience rather than the sure-fire fix that everyone on the internet had proffered.
Tears. I shed actual tears for the years I had spent working on my yard that in mere hours a single fat buzzard had slaughtered.
The bird scratched. The bird honked. The wire glistened beneath the bright sunlight.
I chased the bird and swore at the bird, even though the Brisbane City Council instructs us not to. (Chase them that is. They don’t mention anything about the use of ‘foul’ language – bad pun intended.)
My wife was by now also on a mission to help rid me of my torment. She contacted a bird removal service. There are several around Brisbane who have the sorts of licenses and permits we residents can’t access. They trap the birds and relocate them many kilometres away, ensuring they won’t return to inflict yet more nightmares.
The next morning a man arrived with a metal trap and a mirror. He showed us a video on his phone of a bird spotting its reflection in the mirror, which is fastened to the trap, and, in its innate desire to protect its chosen territory, it rushed at the mirror and into the trap. Hey presto – no more problem.
Unfortunately for us, it didn’t work quite as promised.
That afternoon, my wife and I were standing in our kitchen making a cuppa when the bird appeared again by the bamboo it seemed so intent on claiming. It scratched a bit on one side of the trap, and then it scratched a bit on the other. Then, when it became clear that the trap and the magic mirror held no interest to this obviously higher-intelligent warm-blooded vertebrate, I rushed down from my lofty perch to chase after it.
For more than two weeks we had that trap, and every morning I would set it and every evening I would trigger it again to ensure we didn’t inadvertently catch a feral cat or a fox or something else that could just as easily take my hand off.
We alternated between employing the ‘mirror method’, and an offering of fifty-cent sized white bread pieces (apparently the bush turkeys’ snack of choice when it comes to ‘trap vittles’), but the bird wasn’t having any of it.
The one positive – and it was massive – was that the anticipated mound never eventuated.
According to the sometimes-patient woman in the trap services office (in fairness, I did call her several times), if the bird hadn’t made a nest by that stage, it wasn’t going to. Our yard, she told me, was for feeding purposes only – all the scratching and digging, the bird’s way of finding bugs, worms, and an assortment of grubs à la pâturage.
On a gloomy, rainy day, a different man collected the empty trap, and we parted with a lazy $165.
By now the bird was at least showing us some mercy (or full from gorging itself stupid) – its scratching less frequent, its digging and destruction far less severe than when this all started.
But that hasn’t stopped me casting stern looks at each and every bush turkey I see on my frequent walks through our local bushland. Is that the one? I wonder. Is that the bastard that’s cost us hundreds of dollars and driven me to something well past distraction?
Defeated now, I do, unfortunately, see all bush turkeys as the enemy. And yet, when it’s us people who have driven these birds into our yards through our proclivity to devastate their natural environments, it is, in my quiet moments at least, difficult to do anything but reflect upon my own nemesis with a certain level of reluctant respect for its ability to adapt to the ever-evolving world it inhabits.
I still chase after the bird, however, if I see it – I’m not going to give in so completely. And if I can encourage it to move on to some other poor sap’s garden, then, in some small way, that will count as a belated and utterly hollow victory.
And, in breaking news, it does seem like “my bird” has moved on to newer pastures. It’s been days now, nay weeks, since I’ve seen his swaying wattle grace my eyeballs.
Instead, I have new visitors, a pair of them. So it seems birds do indeed talk to one another, and, in this case, when it comes to the best places in Brisbane to get a feed for bush turkeys, my yard is up there with the best of them.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more articles like this in the future, please consider donating a small amount to help me cover the costs of running this website. I’m not in this to get rich (and trust me, I won’t! 😉), but your contribution helps sustain the effort that goes into crafting fresh, Autism-friendly content. Your support is greatly appreciated. Thank you!