Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) Fact Sheet: Summary

Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) Fact Sheet

Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami)

Image credit: J.J. Harrison via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License 3.0.
(This is a cropped image.)

 

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves — birds

Order: Galliformes — fowls, gallinaceous birds (e.g., turkeys, grouse, chickens, quails, partridge, pheasant)

Family: Megapodiidae — megapodes (brush turkey, malleefowl, scrubfowl)

Genus: Alectura

Species: Alectura lathami — Australian Brush-turkey

Subspecies: Alectura lathami lathami — Yellow-wattled Brush-turkey, Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey
Subspecies: Alectura lathami purpureicollis — Purple-wattled Brush-turkey, Purple-pouched Brush-turkey
 

Body Weight
Male: 2.1-3.0 kg (4.6-6.6 lb)
Female: 1.8-2.7 kg (4.0-6.0 lb)

Body Length
60.0-70.0 cm (23.6-27.6 in)

Tail Length
Male, A. l. lathami: 23.6-27.4 cm (9.3-10.8 in)
Female, A. l. lathami: 22.6-26.0 cm (8.9-10.2 in)
Male, A. l. purpureicollis: 22.8-24.7 cm (9.0-9.7 in)*
Female, A. l. purpureicollis: 23.2-23.6 cm (9.1-9.3 in)*

*Small sample size (n ≤ 5)

 

Coloration
Body feathers blackish or brownish. Underbody feathers hace white/brownish scale-like pattern.
Head color varies—yellow in A. l. lathami; purple-red, purple-white, pink, or gray-ivory in A. l. purpureicollis

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range
Eastern and northeastern Australia; introduced to Kangaroo Island

Habitat
Rainforests, woodlands, eucalypt and gallery forests, creek scrub, and suburban areas

IUCN Status
Least Concern

CITES Appendix
Not listed

Other Designations
Protected in Australia

Populations in the Wild
Over 100,000 individuals

Locomotion
Adults mostly run; fly to roost. Chicks have light weight compared to adults—can fly farther.

Activity Cycle
Move between roosts, foraging areas, and during breeding, mounds. Most active at dawn and dusk. Commonly roost midday.

Social Groups
Roost in groups. Often forage singly; may congregate around food resources. Courtship and aggressive behaviors at mounds.

Diet
Omnivorous. Not well-studied.
Plants: seeds, fruits, berries, grains, shoots, and roots
Animals: frogs, snails, worms, insects and insect larvae, carrion

Predators
Intense predation of young by feral mammals.
Eggs, chicks, young: cats, foxes, pigs, Powerful Owl, monitor lizards
Adults: cats, foxes, dogs, dingoes, quolls

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Unknown; possibly from 10-11 months of age

Incubation Period
47-52 days

Clutch Size
No clutch. Females lay one egg at a time over a period of up to 8 months. Can lay 15-27 eggs in a breeding season.

Weight at Hatching
About 80 g (2.8 oz)

Longevity
Not well studied.
In the wild: at least 9 years
In managed care: maximum of 10-11 years

Feature Facts

  • Brush-turkeys incubate their eggs in a mound of soil and decomposing vegetation; decomposers (microbes and fungi) produce the heat that embryos need to develop
  • Microscopic structures of the outer egg prevent bacteria from sticking to the shell surface
  • Mounds built, maintained, and guarded by males; take longer than a month to construct
  • Chicks hatch underground—lie on back and scrape at soil with feet to exit the mound; usually take two days to dig their way to surface
  • Chicks independent; no parental care
  • Both sexes use bright neck wattle and tail in social displays
  • Males inflate loose neck skin to produce a “boom” vocalization
  • Reflectance of UV light off of a Brush-turkey’s wattle, beak, or legs is thought to provide a channel of “private communication”; likely reduces detection by predators
  • If a predator grabs its tail, a Brush-turkey can escape by shedding all of its tail feathers, almost instantly
  • Presence of Brush-turkeys in suburban areas of eastern Australia is increasing; considered a nuisance, because they can damage gardens
  • Habitat destruction and predation by introduced, feral animals are two challenges this species faces
  • Brush-turkeys and their eggs are protected by Australian law
  • In 1969, the St. Louis Zoo and the San Diego Zoo became the first zoos in the western hemisphere to breed Australian Brush-turkeys

About This Fact Sheet

For detailed information, click the tabs at the top of this page.

 

© 2018 San Diego Zoo Global

 

How to cite: Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) Fact Sheet. c2018. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ australian-brush-turkey
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2018 Mar 10)

 

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to library@sandiegozoo.org.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Prof. Darryl N. Jones for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Professor Jones has been conducting research on the Australian Brush-turkey and many other megapodes (mound-builders) for over 30 years. Dr. Jones has studied Brush-turkeys in Papua New Guinea and Australia, where he currently investigates how these birds use garden habitats.

As a behavioral ecologist, he is interested in how birds adapt to urban areas, and interactions between birds and humans. His work also focuses on road ecology, wildlife management, and climate–ecology issues.

Dr. Jones is co-author of Mound-Builders (2008) and the authoritative monograph, The Megapodes (1995). His new book, The Birds at My Table (available from Cornell University Press in spring 2018), examines what motivates people to feed birds and how this practice affects bird health and behavior.

He holds positions as Professor and Deputy Director of the Environmental Futures Centre at Griffith University in Brisbane Australia, and has long been involved with IUCN’s megapode conservation efforts.


Thank you to Chad Staples, who shared his knowledge of Brush-turkey husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Mr. Staples, Director of Life Sciences at Featherdale Wildlife Park, has extensive experience providing care for Australian birds. As Director, Mr. Staples develops Featherdale’s collections, supervises husbandry staff, participates in education and conservation outreach programs, and consults with other zoos around the world.

Learn more about Chad Staples’ career at Featherdale Wildlife Park.

SDZG Library Links