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.
Most important points:
- Brush turkeys thrive on the south side of the Sydney Harbor Bridge
- It is unclear how the flightless birds made it across
- Their arrival has sparked a mixed reaction from residents in the inner city and southern suburbs
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.
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.”
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.
dr. Martin and Mr. Hall have tagged brush turkeys to better understand how far and wide they can travel. People can also log sightings with the Big City Bird app.
One thing is clear: now that the brush turkeys have made it to the other side, they are thriving.
Creating havoc for gardeners
After five years of studying and tracking their movements, Mr. Hall has developed a fondness for the tenacious birds.
“I have a lot of respect for how tough they are. I like their attitude. And I think they have a lot of personality,” he said.
But not everyone likes to have them around. Brush turkeys rake up to three tons of soil and leaf litter to form a mound for their eggs as part of a prehistoric nesting behavior.
Diane Barker was trying to rent out her apartment in Dulwich Hill in the Inner West in 2019 when a brush turkey entered the front yard.
“It was pretty persistent and it was probably the first time I saw a brush turkey in the area,” she said.
Mrs. Barker wanted the place to look its best for potential tenants, but the brush turkey had other ideas.
“It started digging around pretty ferociously from the start,” she said.
After some research, she tried to use a mirror to deter the bird.
“It soon found out it wasn’t a threat, they’re pretty intelligent birds, and it came back pretty quickly,” she said.
Finally managed to lay some chicken wire and it moved just in time for the new tenants to move in.
Mr Hall recommended using gravel or some other heavy mulch that is difficult for the birds to scratch, rather than chicken wire, to avoid injury.
‘An Australian fighter’
Sightings reported to ABC Radio Sydney confirmed that brush turkeys were widespread, with some people complaining about their destructive habits and others happy about the revival of the native birds.
With so many Australian native species threatened or endangered, Mr Hall said it was an unusual success story.
“Brush turkeys are the rare case of an animal that used to be rare and possibly endangered and has come back from the brink and is now thriving alongside us,” he said.
dr. Martin hoped residents in the south understood that the bird was a survivor who had managed to adapt to an urban environment.
“It’s an Aussie fighter and they’re really just returning to their natural habitat. Ideally, their return will not only be positive for humans, but also for the landscape,” he said.