The Chant of The Scrub Turkey

 

 

 

The scrub turkey should be made an Australian icon. Like many of us, it’s dumb but determined, builds a nest much larger than it will ever need, ignores its young, annoys the hell out of the neighbours and leaves a mess wherever it goes.

 

 

Half Hour Documentary

Sammy Ringer

We spend a week with this adaptable and highly resilient bird - and a small community that has done everything in their power – and within the law - to encourage their population to go somewhere else – anywhere else…

 

 

 

 

Sammy Ringer

52 Palm St

Maleny 4552

0498 313 068

email: sammy@ausbushfoods.com

Chant of the Scrub Turkey

In the vein of ‘A Natural History of the Cane Toad’ and ‘Bowling for Columbine’, we meet a group of apparently normal people who have become – rather strange. We also meet the reason for their behaviour – the ungainly, arrogant and totally protected Scrub Turkey.

In the hinterland behind the Sunshine Coast, in the green, largely Buddhist community of Frogs Hollow, a meeting is taking place. Mandy has the solution to the problem. She’s found a tail feather and an incantation. If they all close their eyes and focus on the bird, it will work…

…and so, with eyes closed and minds focused, the members of this intentional community undertake yet another ‘plan’ to rid their commune of the Scrub Turkey.

It’s hard to explain the feelings this bird engenders. There are the obvious problems of gardens uprooted and mulch removed but it goes deeper than that. Its slow and cumbersome walk, it’s almost comical looks, it’s persistence and – yes – the feeling you get it knows its protected and there’s nothing you can do about its intrusions… and then there’s the way they look. These guys are seriously weird. They’re big, their tail goes the wrong way, they’ve got bald red heads and bright yellow wattles which look like an omelet necklace. Massive, determined feet. A brain which is just large enough to house a focused if limited determination.

A day after the incantation circle, Mandy’s resident Scrub Turkey gets into her house and breaks her favorite set of wine glasses. That night, under cover of dark, she cages it and drives to a posh street in North Maleny. Here she ‘relocates’ the offending male, wishing it a good life as she drives home.

The whole thing begins late winter, as the males, having surveyed their territory, decide on just the right spot for their mounds. As nests go, these mounds must be the biggest in the world. Two to three foot high, sometimes 15-20 feet round, the males can take weeks to scratch the mulch and leaves into a massive pile that warms up nicely for the hoped-for eggs. It’s mating season the males’ heads and necks have turned bright red and its wattle has engorged and turned an alarming yellow.

Humans have inadvertently created little ‘scrub turkey heavens’ round their houses – creating ‘eat in diners’ with their compost piles and laying out mulch galore for the males to use.

The nest building is a wonderful thing to behold – if it’s not happening in your backyard. The male will scratch mulch and leafs with his feet and move it, sometimes hundreds of feet, into a mound. The mound starts to warm up and the male will make holes and poke his head in to test the temperature. They’re very possessive of their mounds – they’ll fight off other males and only allow the female on it to mate and lay her eggs  The female makes a half hearted effort at burying the eggs in the mound but it is the male who covers them properly and ensures they’re getting the warmth they need to incubate. That done, the two of them wander off and forget about it.

Over lunch, Mandy and the others wonder whether it’s illegal to eat the turkey eggs. Someone’s discovered that the Aboriginal people ate the scrub turkey ‘when the wattle blooms’ – perhaps they can invoke some traditional reason for culling them? Through all this Gillian sits with lips pursed, her scrub turkey T-shirt faded but defiant. ‘Leave them alone!’ she declares and no one argues with her – she doesn’t mind her garden being trashed and her veggies pulled out.

As the males strut around her yard, Ann shows us her newest ‘anti Turkey’ device - chicken wire laid out over every part of the garden. It doesn’t work.

In the mound, the first chick is nearly ready to hatch.

Down the road at a local park, tourists watch wide eyed as the birds strut through their picnic groups, scratching here and there and offering the perfect photo opportunity.

The chick has hatched – now it faces the daunting task of digging its way out of the mound. It takes quite some time.

When it finally pops its head out of the top of the mound, we discover it’s actually quite cute. And very independent. It surveys the world for a moment and then struts off to hunt for insects.  Within an hour it will be able to fly. It will never know its parents.

While we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about the scrub turkey, we’ll talk to natural history documentary maker John Young. Although the birds’ numbers have soared in some areas, he claims that measures are needed to protect it. Clearing of rainforest and introduced predators present a threat…

As he speaks, we find one of the ‘introduced predators’ - running around like a banshee, yelling at a most unfazed male who has just scratched her herb garden into ruination. Ann is probably the fiercest opponent of these hapless birds, ‘Look! The garden! Swept clean – everything gone!’ The male watches from a distance as Ann takes a rake to the growing mound, punching and gouging it in a futile attempt to discourage his nest building.

Frogs Hollow is wildlife friendly - no cats and dogs are allowed. However, down the road we find that even a large and notoriously vicious dog has little impact on a male intent on completing his mound. Fred Chalmers’ German Shepherd has tried to dislodge the persistent bird for years. ‘No contest.’ is all he’ll say. ‘This year I put out piles of mulch for it so it’d leave my garden alone.’ Did it work? ‘Nope – he took my mulch and cleared the garden as well.’

In a room half lit by the setting sun, we talk to ‘X’.  We might even disguise her voice. On a pile of rags under a light bulb, a single white eggs glistens. ‘It’s illegal, I know. I saw this goanna climbing into the mound and he came back out with bits of egg all over his face. I dug in and found this one – the only one he left.’ We’ll come back to X later as the illegal chick prepares to hatch…

In a block of units in Brisbane, hemmed in by a major road and miles of suburbia, a hopeful male gathers what mulch he can find and builds his nest next to Toni’s BBQ. ‘He‘s back again, poor bugger.’ is all she can say. The resident female attempted to cross the road two years ago and was flattened. The male, unaware or simply uncaring, builds a palace for a mate who will never come. Toni doesn’t have that much sympathy for him – ‘I watched him for years – he ignored the female all year round and then, when the nest was built, it was a quick root on top of the pile and he was off again…bloody men.’

The scrub turkey should be made an Australian icon. Like many of us, it’s dumb but determined, builds a nest much larger than it will ever need, ignores its young, annoys the hell out of the neighbours and leaves a mess wherever it goes.

Out at Frogs Hollow, Ann has set up a ghetto blaster next to the growing nest. ‘I’m going to give him 24 hour a day rap. Bought the CD specially.’ Ann looks pleased with herself. The male, bobbing his head in time to the music, continues to build.

Scrub TurkeyAlectura lathami  - protected under the Native Fauna Act, 1997

Recipe for Scrub  Turkey stew: put turkey in pot with water and a stone. Boil. Throw away turkey, eat stone.

Magic spell to rid your land of scrub turkeys:

Scrubble scrubble scrubble be gone and cause no trouble

Urkey urkey urkey, begone you fowl scrub turkey