Latchkey chicks

The local youth have been loitering around our place, nicking in without so much as a by-your-leave, cadging food and then disappearing as soon as the adults arrive with a basket of washing or a lawnmower (or a camera).

Normally at this time of year the offenders are brush turkey chicks, absurdly tiny and fluffy to be so completely unattended by any kind of parental figure.  Chooks the same age and size would be under the watchful eye of some stern motherly type, but brush turkey babies are the original latchkey chicks.  From the time they burrow their way out of the incubating mound, they’re on their own.

Brush turkey like to make their mounds where it’s really shady – 85-90% cover.  Our neighbours’ backyard is perfect and every now and then the little chicks squeeze through the fence  – or fly over it, something they can do from the time they’re only a few hours old – into our place.  This one doesn’t quite have the heft to work Grandpa’s foot-pedal activated chicken feeder, but it’s giving it a red hot go.

But this year the brush turkeys are not the only feckless youth about. One morning last week, I spotted two scrawny youngsters scuttling away behind the woodshed.  Two?  I’ve never seen a brush turkey babe with a buddy before.

It seems the neighbours’ pair of fledgeling Barnevelders occasionally like to slip away from their adoptive mum to rampage through our yard.  I was baffled by the sudden demolition of the “clucker tucker” patch –  a mix of tasty greens and seeds like bok choy, buckwheat,  clover, linseed, lucerne, millet, silverbeet and sunflower that I’d been carefully cultivating as a cover crop and future fodder supply.   Green Harvest’s website makes the droll comment that these plants “have vigorous root systems that will quickly regrow leaves that are cut or eaten”.  I’d carefully fenced it off from our own poultry demolition squad and the damage didn’t have that “visit from by a front end loader” look so characteristic of the work of brush turkeys so I was at something of a loss until I saw two sets of skinny dino-legs through a pullet-sized scrape under the fence.

I’m not sure what the allure of our backyard is.  I guess there are no handy bus shelters for the young team to hang out in around here, so our woodshed is the next best thing.  Recently I’ve seen one of the neighbour’s teenage chickens in the yard again, this time fraternising with an adolescent brush turkey. All fine and dandy, I’m sure (like any naive parent, I’m carefully not thinking about this kind of thing).

I’m taking tips on bringing up the kids from the chooks – the case for a free range childhood seems pretty sound to me.  So bring on the latchkey chicks!  I’m here to embrace the modern fowl – whether she be Alectura lathami or Gallus gallus domesticus – with her busy life as a working parent, and to celebrate her offspring’s initiative and spirit of independence. As long as the little fiends stay out of my silverbeet!

10 thoughts on “Latchkey chicks

  1. You have done well to identify so quickly the Barnevelders as being the eaters of the clucker tucker patch .
    I am a bit curious why you own chooks didn’t get in there too.
    I think you said they free range all the time.
    Also curious if it is the one neighbour who has the Barnevelders and turkey mound and running golden bamboo (you mentioned earlier).
    I have a patch of that bamboo too, but not near the neighbours.

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  6. Wow! I’ve seen plenty of adult turkeys about, in my back yard, on rainforest walks and on the uni grounds, but I’ve never seen chicks! I actually had no idea what they looked like until your post. They are sort of cute and ugly aren’t they? Not sure whether you want me to congratulate you or not as I know what they can get up to but I think it’s pretty special that you get to see the offspring. It’s nice to know the environment around your place allows the native critters to reproduce. Great to read your stuff as usual. 🙂

    • Thanks Jane. They are quite amazing – independent from the moment they hatch.I do have a slight sinking feeling as I see them appear in our yard though. We seem to have fewer adult brush turkeys in our backyard at the moment (thank goodness!) – hoping numbers don’t pick up again with the next generation!

  7. Hello, I was reading about your chickens mingling with brush turkeys. I am doing a project on Brush Turkeys; I’ve already been to Berowra and found one mound close to some chickens. I would particularly like to know if there are more, and it seems you have. Is it possible to come by and see them? I can tell you much more about my project so you can evaluate if I am trustworthy. Thanks you, Esther

    • Hi Esther, sounds like an interesting project! We don’t have a mound in our yard but I suspect our neighbours may well have one. What sort of info are you looking to find out for your project? If you are near Berowra I would be happy to meet up with you and give you a look around my garden. There are usually one or two around the yard at any given time – often many more!

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