Late one afternoon as I was walking down the lane behind our house there was a sudden commotion. A brush turkey (Alectura lathami) hurtled over two back fences, across the street, and into another garden with a second turkey in hot pursuit. By the time I reached the garden, the first turkey was huddled by the front gate with its head buried in a fig hedge, whilst its pursuer – a male in full breeding condition – raked its back with its powerful claws.
The male continued to rake and stomp, whilst its victim lay unmoving.
Eventually I poked my head over the gatepost, and the male reluctantly retreated to the nearby rooftop to await its next opportunity.
The victim continued to cower with its head buried in the hedge, probably unaware I was standing over it, so the male hopped back on to the railing above the second bird, obviously considering renewing its assault.
However it may have thought I was still too close, for it then retreated back to the hedge above the victim. Here it did something I have only once seen a turkey do before – it bent its head down and inflated its neck pouch. I was caught a little unawares with the camera focused on the wall behind, but the result is good enough to give the picture:
Within two seconds the pouch was deflating again:
And two seconds later the pouch was fully deflated once more:
After a few minutes, the victim bird finally lifted its head out of the hedge and turned a little. It was only then that I could see that it was blind in its right eye, and at that point it still would have been unable to see me. It didn’t seem to be much injured beyond some shredded feathers. The bristles on the back of its head suggested that it was a female, which surprised me – I had thought I was seeing male-on-male aggression.
I stepped back a little to avoid startling it too much. Eventually it turned around fully, and tried to retreat along the section of hedge away from its tormentor, but was quickly chased and caught again.
It was rapidly driven back onto the ground:
However, the victim managed to get back onto the hedge and then take refuge in a low tree, with the male glaring up at it from below.
A few seconds later it was being driven out of the tree back into the neighbouring garden,
Here it took refuge in a clump of grass, where it was almost completely covered, and after a few minutes its pursuer left it and returned to perch triumphantly on the wall above.
Although I have seen territorial disputes between turkeys before, I have never seen this level of violence. However, it’s not the most determined aggression I’ve seen between Australian birds – I once had to force two fighting magpies apart with my shoe!
The losing turkey probably had the right idea in burying its head to protect its eyes from those raking claws. It did make me wonder though, how the victim-turkey originally lost its eye. I’ve seen at least two one-eyed turkeys in our neighbourhood recently: could it be that their injuries were caused by other turkeys?