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Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Males Females
Weight 2.1-3.0 kg (4.6-6.6 lb) 1.8-2.7 kg (4.0-6.0 lb)
Tarsus length 9.8-12.6 cm (3.9-5.0 in) 8.4-9.8 cm (3.3-3.9 in)
Body length 60.0-70.0 cm (23.6-27.6 in)
Wing length A. l. lathami: 31.3-33.4 cm (12.3-13.1 in)
A. l. purpureicollis: 29.8-32.6 cm (11.7-12.8 in)*
A. l. lathami: 29.8-32.2 cm (11.7-12.7 in)
A. l. purpureicollis: 29.8-31.1 cm (11.7-12.2 in)*
Tail length A. l. lathami: 23.6-27.4 cm (9.29-10.8 in)
A. l. purpureicollis: 22.8-24.7 cm (8.98-9.72 in)*
A. l. lathami: 22.6-26.0 cm (8.90-10.2 in)
A. l. purpureicollis: 23.2-23.6 cm (9.13-9.29 in)*

 

Notes

  • Considerable size variation; largest individuals in southern Australia (Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
  • * n ≤ 5
     

Data sources

Jones and Göth (2008): weight, tarsus length
Jones et al. (1995): body length, wing length, tail length

General Appearance

Body

  • Large (Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
    • Largest living (extant) megapode

Plumage

  • Adult
    • Body feathers blackish or brownish (Marchant and Higgins 1993; Jones et al. 1995; Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
      • Enables the Brush-turkey to blend in with shade and vegetation in its forest habitat (Jones and Göth 2008)
      • Some feathers have white tipping (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Underbody feathers have white/brownish scale-like pattern (Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
    • Female appears similar to male (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Head and neck feathers more sparse and hair-like
  • Immature
    • Similar to adult female; sometimes difficult to distinguish (Jones et al. 1995)
    • 1-3 months of age (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Feathers fairly soft
      • Wings short
      • Tail short and narrow
    • 3-10 months of age (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Head and neck feathers sparser and more bristly
      • Wing and tail feathers of male grow longer
        • Not as long as in adult male
  • Chick
  • For detailed plumage descriptions, see Jones et al. (1995)

Head and neck

  • Feathers
    • Mostly bare, except for short, black, bristly feathers (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Fewer bristles in male
  • Coloration of bare skin
    • Adult males (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Bright or deep/saturated colors during breeding season
        • More pale during non-breeding season
      • Head and upper neck
        • Red in both subspecies
      • Lower neck and wattle (if present)
        • A. l. lathami (Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey)
          • Yellow
        • A. l. purpureicollis (Purple-pouched Brush-turkey)
          • Purple-red, purple-white, pink, or gray-ivory
    • Adult females
      • Similar coloration to adult males, but less brightly colored (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Immatures
      • Similar to adult females (Jones et al. 1995)
  • Wattle (loose, wrinkled skin on neck)
    • Males
      • Large, loose, and furrowed during breeding (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Can control their wattle size (Jones and Göth 2008)
        • “Inflate” or “deflate” (retract) the neck skin
        • Exact mechanism not known
          • Air or blood may be pumped into the neck skin
    • Females
      • Small wattle, compared to males (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Immatures
      • No wattle (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Also see “Changes in physical characteristics during breeding” in Reproduction
  • Eye
    •  
    • A. l. lathami (Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey)
      • Iris light brown, yellow, cream, blue, or gray (Jones et al. 1995; Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
        • Any of these colors with white
    • A. l. purpureicollis (Purple-pouched Brush-turkey) (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Iris brown or gray-white
      • “Dark yellow” and gray-green also reported
  • Bill
    • Black or black-brown (Jones et al. 1995)
      • Sometimes tints of green or olive near base

Legs and feet

  • Strong, robust legs (Jones and Göth 2008)
    • Use to build large mounds, run from predators, and defend territory (males)
  • Dark brown-to-black (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Undersurface of foot is sometimes a dull greenish-yellow or gray
    • In A. l. purpureicollis, also reported as yellow or red

Tail

  • Large, black (Jones et al. 1995)
  • Held vertically, in either a fanned or folded position (Jones and Göth 2008)
    • Helps with running and maneuvering through dense vegetation
    • Dominant individuals may display by spreading their tail more widely
      • More research needed

Sexual Dimorphism

Body size

  • Females slightly smaller, on average (Jones et al. 1995; Starck and Sutter 2000; Elliott and Kirwan 2017)

Leg length

  • Males have longer legs (Jones and Göth 2008)
    • 10-12 mm (1.0-1.2 cm), on average

Head and neck

  • Sexes almost indistinguishable during non-breeding season (Jones and Göth 2008)
  • Female has smaller neck pouch and less bare skin (Jones et al. 1995; Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
    • Sparse, bristle-like feathers on head and neck
  • During breeding, neck wattle of adult male forms a conspicuous, thick pouch (Jones et al. 1995)
  • Also see “Wattle” in Physical Characteristics

Cloaca

  • Can be used to distinguish the sexes (Jones and Göth 2008)
    • In males, one “lip” is larger and color is darker pink (Jones and Göth 2008)
  • Useful technique when examining young Australian Brush-turkeys (Jones and Göth 2008)

Identification

Species identification

  • Not usually confused for other Australian birds (Jones et al. 1995)
  • The Australian Brush-turkeys differs in several ways from other mound-building birds in Australia (Jones and Göth 2008)
    • Larger body
    • Naked head
    • Wattle
    • Long, conspicuous tail

Differences between subspecies

(Elliott and Kirwan 2017)

  • Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey (A. l. lathami)
    • Wattle is yellow
  • Purple-pouched Brush-turkey (A. l. purpureicollis)
    • Wattle is purplish-pink
    • Skin appears smoother than in Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey
    • Tail is shorter
    • In the eye, iris appears duller than in Yellow-pouched Brush-turkey
      • Brownish-white or grayish-white

Age-specific differences

  • Female and immature nearly identical (Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
    • Immature differs in two ways (Jones et al. 1995; Elliott and Kirwan 2017)
      • Less bristly feathering on head and neck
      • Less bare skin visible

Senses

Vision

  • Suggested to have good color vision (Göth and Proctor 2002)
    • Prevalent among diurnal birds

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

Molting

  • Feathers shed gradually, rather than all at once (Jones and Göth 2008)
  • Usually molt during the non-breeding season (February-May) (Jones et al. 1995)
    • Some geographic variation

Metabolism

  • Lower metabolism than flying birds (Seymour et al. 2008)
    • All galliform birds (e.g., chickens, quails, pheasants) have low maximum metabolic rates

Body temperature and thermoregulation

  • Body temperature: approximately 40°C (104°F) (Booth 1985)
  • Chicks able to regulate their body temperature after 24 hours old (Booth 1985)
    • Not thought to experience heat stress within the mound

Water retention

  • Incubation mound very moist (Seymour 1991)
    • Egg of an Australian Brush-turkey retains twice as much water as a typical bird’s egg
    • See Incubation Mounds

Neck Ornament

Head and neck of Australian Brush-turkey

The brightly colored neck wattle of the Australian Brush-turkey is used in social displays.

Scientists continue to investigate how the wattle is used in communication and courtship. It can be inflated for vocalization and also reflects UV light.

Image credit: Brisbane City Council via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License 2.0.

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