11 December 2000

While Americans are roasting them, The University of Queensland is hosting them.

Brush turkeys-big, black turkey-like birds native to Australia and renowned for their voracious, mound-building behaviours-have got UQ's grounds staff in more of a flap this Christmas than ever before.

The University's Property and Facilities grounds staff are talking turkey about the mess and chaos created by males of the group known as megapodes eagerly scratching together at least nine mounds around the campus over recent months.

It seems Brisbane's brush turkey population has developed a major penchant for the brand of forest mulch (rotting leaf litter and wood-chips) used on the University's gardens.

"The male brush turkey with the biggest and best mound literally wins the chicks," according to the University's Senior Supervisor-Grounds Lisa Taylor.

"Our gardeners tolerate the annual re-distribution of mulch over paths and ask students and staff to bear with us at this time of the year."

However, Ms Taylor said the turkeys seemed to have been far more active in their mound-building this year.

"We can only think they have taken a liking to the rich forest mulch we are using on the gardens," she said.

One crawed Cassanova had got so carried away, he had built a mulch ramp up to a nearby wall so he could continue scratching mulch from a new area of garden, she said.

Zoology and Entomology Department senior lecturer Dr Anne Goldizen said male brush turkeys built the mounds (usually of at least a couple of cubic-metres in size) and regulated the temperature within them by adding and removing leaf litter in order to attract multiple females to lay eggs in the mounds.

"They check the temperature by sticking their heads into the mound. Despite the care and attention which goes into building the mounds and ensuring the correct incubation temperature, once chicks hatch, they are left to fend for themselves," Dr Goldizen said.

"The turkeys may be more visible this year due to an excellent breeding season for birds generally in 1999."

For more information, contact Dr Anne Goldizen (telephone 07 3365 4824), Lisa Taylor (telephone 07 3365 2747) or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339).