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!