Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

Pecking preferences in hatchlings of the Australian brush-turkey, Alectura lathami (Megapodiidae): the role of food type and colour

Ann Göth and Heather Proctor

Australian Journal of Zoology 50(1) 93 - 102
Published: 16 April 2002


Chicks of megapodes, including the Australian brush-turkey, Alectura lathami, live independently, without parents to show them where and what to eat. This paper represents the first investigation of how megapode chicks find and identify food. The specific questions addressed are: whether naive brush-turkey hatchlings are able to differentiate between food and objects that do not give a nutritional reward; whether they possess a preference for certain types of food; and which factors are most likely to trigger feeding in hatchlings.

The three questions were approached by pairwise choice tests of two types. In Type 1, chicks were offered mealworm larvae, fruit cubes, seeds and non-nutritious objects (pebbles); in Type 2, chicks were offered beads of four different colours (red, green, blue and yellow). The median peck rate at pebbles was always significantly lower than that at mealworms, fruit or seeds. Mealworms received significantly more pecks than seeds or pebbles. Chicks showed no clear preference for any colour. All chicks also directed some pecks at ‘other items’ that appeared to display a strong contrast against the background of the box they were kept in, either in colour (e.g. dark knotholes in light brown wood) or in shape (three-dimensional, such as claws and faeces). Hatchlings seem to direct their initial pecks at objects that have certain characteristics in common, such as contrast, movement (for live prey) and reflective surfaces (for fruit or seeds). Preference for these rather general characteristics may be adaptive considering that chicks can hatch in various habitats and different months of the year, making the types of food available at hatching unpredictable.

© CSIRO 2002

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