Thursday, 31 March 2016

Native bush turkeys and domestic chickens - our experience!

Last year in early summer, I thought one of my baby chooks had escaped and was hiding in the bushes in the backyard. I chased after her for a while before I realised that it wasn't one of my chooks but a bush turkey chick! It was the same size as one of my Aracana babies just a lot darker. It was kinda cute and we felt a bit special that the chick was in our backyard.


By December it had grown a lot and we decided that it was probably a boy and christened him Christmas Turkey - or Chris for short! Once we became convinced it was a boy we started looking on the internet to see if it was indeed still cool and fun to have a giant male bush turkey in your backyard along with chickens...


All the articles that I found said that they were trouble. Big gangs of bush turkey boys visit backyards with procreation on their minds and look to the domestic hen to satisfy those needs. For most people the mating part isn't an issue as the eggs even if they are fertile aren't being incubated to hatch but eaten; the issue was more around the damage the males did to the females during the mating sessions not the production of  potential Churkeys or Tuckens.

We had a chat to Chris and told him to be careful and all would be well if he left the girls alone. Otherwise we would have to call in the professionals.



As Chris got bigger, he got bolder and we would often find him in the pens and hanging around the edges of the flock. He would come when I called the girls for a treat and hang around hoping for a handout - this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. One afternoon when I needed to worm the girls, Chris gobbled up a piece of worming solution laden bread along with the chooks. He didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from it and hopefully wont be passing on worms to the girls on his travels around the yard and in their pens.



Because he was a chick when he appeared, we found the older girls had no problems telling him where to go and he seemed to accept that he was on or near the bottom of the pecking order - at least that's what it looked like to us. The girls would chase him away from food and when he was in a "hoping to get lucky" mood and approached one of the girls, making his special gurking noise, they saw him off in no uncertain terms.



There's been a few toe to toes with one of the baby chickens that we think may be a rooster which have been amusing and have ended with nothing more than both boys(?) backing down and shaking a few feathers as they retire to different parts of the yard.


Chris seems to escape up into the big trees in the yard and I suspect he sleeps up there too. He is now bigger looking than even our Brahmas and Sussex chooks, both which can get quite big. I suspect he weighs more too. Its only March but he must be about 6 months old and is definitely looking for a wife. He has taken to harassing the black Aracana as she looks the most like a Bush Turkey. Midnight (the chook in favour) has taken to putting herself into the coop and, as confident as Chris is, he wont go into the sleeping part of the pen. He stands outside gurking sexily at Midnight who just ignores him and settles in for a long preening session until I chase him away.

Rain (our grey Aracana) is as flighty as her breed comes and every time Chris looks at her, she flibbertigibbits and carries on like a pork chop! These days I call her and she runs to the house with Chris in hot pursuit and hides under the picnic table on the patio. Chris isn't game to come too close and hangs around gurking at her hopefully. Although we have trained the dog not to chase him, Chris is still wary about getting close to the dog. The chooks will jump over the dog when she is sleeping and try and steal her bone so she is approachable from a chook point of view but not from a turkeys one!

Just as we were wondering if Chris' interest in Rain and Midnight was getting too much, I saw a flash of  unidentified bird in the bushes again....



I don't know where it came from but it looks like we have another bush turkey chick in residence! So far this one has been called "Chick" until we work out weather its a girl or a boy....

Chick is as shy as Chris was in the beginning, which is reasonable if you happen to be small and tasty, but as time goes on we see more and more of her. She doesn't seem to have the bright colouring that Chris had at the same age and so we are hoping for a Christine to go with our Christopher so that he finds true love and lives happily ever after - and leaves poor Rain the Aracana alone!



Our experience of native bush turkeys in the backyard with our domestic chooks has been ok despite seeing nothing positive on line elsewhere. I think that has to do with Chris being a chick when he arrived rather than a fully grown wild male on his way through looking for a mate. The chooks put him in his place while he was young enough to take on the social conditioning and so far he is only getting fresh with the smaller two in the flock. And while that causes a ruckus, he hasn't done any damage to them as I read about happening to other peoples domestic chickens.

He is getting enough food from our yard and the neighbours yards and we haven't seen another turkey for years - so there doesn't seem to be any territorial issues (so far). There must be a breeding pair somewhere as we have had two chicks appear in the last 6 months but I have never seen them. We do live over the road from a very big nature reserve and even though I walk there regularly, I have never seen a bush turkey over there... So I'm at a loss to know where they are coming from.

So far so good but we do monitor the turkeys to make sure they are healthy (and not infecting our chooks), are wormed (for obvious reasons) and that Chris is not hurting the chooks when he is overwhelmed by passion for them.

I throw a small handful of grain for the turkeys in the mornings when I feed our girls to make sure they don't need to go into the pens to find the food. The less the turkeys are in the pens the better. I always chase Chris out if I find him in there but don't chase him if he eats from "his" spot. The reality is that they don't eat much grain anyway! They enjoy lettuce and other greens along with the main flock and will go for a  piece of bread but wont get into the melee when a piece is thrown into the middle of the yard!

Overall it has been an interesting experience and so far a positive one. Its been fun to watch Chris grow up and change and it will be interesting to see if we are right and that Chick is a girl. It might not be so fun when they have built some whopping great mound nest under the trees, but at this point, we will just wait and see what happens.

What's your experience with bush turkeys in the back yard?
 

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