After a decades-long absence, brush turkeys are reclaiming Sydney’s inner-city and southern suburbs, but not everyone has welcomed the distinctive birds back.
Brush turkeys are thriving on the south side of the Sydney Harbor Bridge
It is unclear how the flightless birds made it to the other side
Their arrival prompted a mixed response from residents in inner-city and southern suburbs
From the odd sighting south of the Sydney Harbor Bridge a few years ago, brush turkeys are now widespread.
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, land clearing and introduced species threatened their survival.
“They’ve been slowly coming back. But we’ve been taken by surprise just how fast they’re spreading into the city,” Mr Hall told Cassie McCullagh on Mornings.
On the brink of extinction in the 1930s, some birds took refuge in national parks in the north and north-west.
Since hunting brush turkeys were outlawed, their numbers have increased steadily on the northern beaches and surrounds.
But many residents south of the Sydney Harbor Bridge are seeing the birds in their backyards and parks for the first time.
How did brush turkeys cross the harbour?
Researchers may have predicted the population would expand, but one question has them scratching their heads.
Given the harbor separates the city’s north and south, how did the brush turkey get to the other side?
“It truly is a mystery,” Dr John Martin, research scientist at Taronga Zoo, said.
“These birds do not fly very well, so flying hundreds of meters across the harbor or across the [Parramatta River] is just not something they are capable of.”
One theory is that residents in the north wanting to rid their backyards of the pesky bird may have captured them, driven them across the bridge and released them into new territory.
They may have come down from existing populations in the Blue Mountains or up from Wollongong, which may explain sightings on the city’s southern fringe.
Dr Martin and Mr Hall have been tagging brush turkeys to get a better understanding of how far and wide they can travel. People can also log sightings using the Big City Bird app.
One thing is clear: now that brush turkeys have made it to the other side, they’re thriving.
Causing 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 hardy they are. I love their attitude. And I think they’ve got a lot of personality,” he said.
But not everyone loves having 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 behaviour.
Diane Barker was trying to rent out her apartment in Dulwich Hill in the inner-west in 2019 when a brush turkey moved into the front yard.
“It was pretty persistent and it was probably the first time I’d seen a brush turkey in the area,” she said.
Ms Barker wanted the place to look its best for potential tenants, but the brush turkey had other ideas.
“It started to dig around pretty ferociously right from the beginning,” she said.
After doing some research she tried using a mirror to deter the bird.
“It quickly figured out it wasn’t a threat, they’re quite intelligent birds, and it soon came back,” she said.
Eventually laying some chicken wire did the trick and it moved out just in time for the new tenants to move in.
Mr Hall recommended using gravel or some other heavy kind of mulch that the birds find difficult to scratch, rather than chicken wire, to avoid injuries.
‘An Aussie battler’
Sightings reported to ABC Radio Sydney confirmed brush turkeys were widespread, with some people complaining about their destructive habits and others happy about the native birds’ resurgence.
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 right alongside us,” he said.
Dr Martin hoped residents in the south appreciated that the bird was a survivor that had managed to adapt to an urban environment.
“It’s an Aussie battler and they are actually just returning to their natural habitat. Ideally, their return is a positive not just for humans, but for the landscape,” he said.