Brush turkeys spread across Sydney, but how the bird crossed the harbor is a mystery

After an absence of decades, brush turkeys are retaking Sydney’s inner city and southern suburbs, but not everyone has welcomed the signature birds back.

From the strange sighting south of the Sydney Harbor Bridge a few years ago, brush turkeys are now rife.

Research ecologist Matthew Hall told ABC Radio Sydney it was only a matter of time before the native birds returned to the areas they once inhabited before hunting, clearing land and introduced species threatened their survival.

“They’re slowly coming back. But we’re surprised at how quickly they’re spreading in the city,” Mr. Hall told Cassie McCullagh on Mornings.

Brush turkeys thrive thanks to their ability to adapt to the urban environment.(ABC Radio Sydney: Rosemary Bolger)

To the point of extinction in the 1930s, some birds took refuge in national parks to the north and northwest.

Since brush turkey hunting was banned, their numbers have steadily increased on the northern beaches and environs.

But many residents south of Sydney Harbor Bridge are seeing the birds for the first time in their backyards and parks.

How did brush turkeys cross the harbor?

Researchers may have predicted that the population would increase, but one question has them scratching their heads.

Since the harbor separates the north and south of the city, how did the brush turkey get to the other side?

“It’s really a mystery,” said Dr. John Martin, a research scientist at Taronga Zoo.

“These birds don’t fly very well, so fly hundreds of meters over the harbor or over the sea [Parramatta River] is just not something they are capable of.”

Brush turkeys cross the road at Gladesville in Sydney's Lower North Shore.
Brush turkeys cross the road in Gladesville on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.(Delivered: Paula Marchant)

One theory is that residents in the north looking to rid their backyards of the pesky bird captured them, drove them across the bridge, and released them into new territory.

They may come from existing populations in the Blue Mountains or from Wollongong, which may explain the sightings on the southern edge of the city.

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