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Depravity in our back yards - bush turkeys are 'raping' domestic chickens, experts say

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Native brush turkeys are attacking and forcefully trying to mate with domestic hens and there is very little that can be done to stop them.

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Residents who turned to backyard chooks for eggs during the coronavirus pandemic are encountering a serious problem but are powerless to stop it under Queensland law.

It’s breeding season for brush turkeys and the protected native birds have set their sights on domestic hens.

Griffith University professor Darryl Jones said between September and December, brush turkeys — also known as scrub or bush turkeys — were searching for mates, as well as the perfect place for a nest, or “mound”.

Jones said the turkeys were attracted to back yards and could be violent in their interactions with hens.

“They often get attracted to the chook food that’s being put out for the chickens,” Jones said. “They will — and I can say this without hesitation — rape them.”

Increase in reports of attacks

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, demand for backyard chickens skyrocketed as panicked shoppers emptied supermarket shelves of eggs and other staples.

Jones said it could be upsetting for owners to see their chickens injured or traumatised, but there was little to no chance of the different species successfully mating.

“It can be fairly distressing for the birds because they’re much smaller,” he said. “It’s a really nasty interaction.”

Because they are a native species, brush turkeys can only be relocated by licenced operators.

Private animal controller Julieanne Ransby said she had received many requests for help.

“Some of our techs are getting more calls up at the Sunshine Coast,” she said.

“Then there’s Brisbane and we’ve got the Gold Coast as well.”

Ransby said despite reported attacks, she had also witnessed chickens and turkeys living in relative harmony, particularly if the birds had grown up together in the area.

Touching a turkey is illegal

Ransby said people sometimes took matters into their own hands because they were reluctant to pay for a solution. But, by doing that, they were putting the turkeys in danger.

“They don’t know what they’re doing,” she said.

“They don’t know where they can relocate these birds.”

Under Queensland law, it is illegal to move, injure or interfere with native wildlife, including the brush turkey.

The Environment Department warned that the penalty for taking or killing a brush turkey ranged from $667 to a maximum $133,000, or one year in prison.

In New South Wales, those caught harming protected wildlife, including the turkeys, can face a fine of up to $22,000.

University of Sydney brush turkey researcher Matthew Hall has been studying how and why the turkeys are able to thrive in urban areas.

He said they were hunted close to extinction as a source of food during the Great Depression, but had since exploded in number.

“They’ve just become really well adapted to urban areas,” Hall said.

“It seems the brush turkeys that live in cities have just really gotten used to people and aren’t afraid of them anymore.”

‘Conflict birds’ go it alone

Jones said the increasingly fearless birds were frustrating for many people, but were also “extraordinary”.

He said they were the only birds to emerge from their shells that do not receive support from parents.

“There’s no one to look after them, they have no parental care of any sort, no one to tell them what a predator looks like or what food is or anything,” Jones said.

“They go off alone into the unknown world.

“They’re a massive conflict bird — they’ve destroyed lots of wonderful gardens.

“But they are still extraordinarily interesting because of all the different things they do.”

– ABC / Owen Jacques

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