Monday, October 28, 2013

Australian Bush Turkey

Megapodes, or bush-turkeys, are found on the islands of southeast Asia and Australia. This Australian Bush-Turkey, as its name implies, is found in eastern Australia. This bird is odd looking—its tail appears to be stuck on sideways. The species originally inhabited coastal rainforest. Cutting of the rainforest has forced bush-turkies into disturbed areas and suburbs. These are omnivorous birds, they eat about anything, and are often found at landfills.

Megapodes (also known as mound-builders) share with some reptiles the curious behavior of building nesting mounds. They lay their eggs in big piles of leaves and earth; mounds can contain 4 tons of material and average 85 cm high (and up to 700 cm). By adding or taking leaves off these compost piles, they keep their eggs at an optimal temperature of about 33.3 degrees C.  The mounds can retain their heat for several weeks, not requiring attention from the birds.

Males are polygynous and build the mounds. Curiously, bush-turkeys occasionally use human compost piles, modifying them for their own use. Females are serially polyandrous (they stay with a single male for several weeks, but then move on to new mates). Several females may lay in one male’s mound. Males can have two active mounds, each containing up to 58 eggs, although only only up to 27 come from each female.

Most of this information is from The Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, a web-based resource that I recently reviewed in this blog. I took this photograph in 1990 a city park in Port Macquarie, Australia, when our family toured after Erika and I presented a paper at an ornithological congress in New Zealand.

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