Thursday, January 23, 2014

Strategies for staying warm - this bird does what?

Ever heard of the Australian Brush-turkey? Probably not. For a turkey it's pretty showy - bright red head, yellow (or purple) wattle, sideways fanned tail. But this bird has an even showier strategy it uses to incubate its eggs. While most birds sit for hours, sometimes taking turns, sometimes one bird stuck doing the whole thing, the Australian brush-turkey has managed to figure out how to incubate its eggs and be free to roam.

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Australian Brushturkey - Source: Wikipedia

One of Life's Principles is that life uses readily available materials and energy. This concept is pretty easy to understand and it's pretty easy to find examples of this on your doorstep. The squirrel that lives in your tree isn't traveling to the next village, let alone Alabama, in search of materials to build its nest; it is finding materials in a relatively small radius around its home. Similarly, a plant isn't getting energy to grow from a coal-fired power plant, it's harnessing the sun's energy. Aside from energy from the sun, what other sources of energy can you think of that are readily available? I'm betting that this bird has you beat in terms of creativity in finding a readily available energy source.

The Australian Brush-turkey builds large communal nests on the ground, around 3 to 4.5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) high and up to 13 feet (4 meters) across. The nests are made of readily available materials from their environment - leaves, other combustible material and earth. By combining organic matter in a large mound, the brush-turkey effectively creates a compost pile in which decomposing matter generates heat. While many birds must sit on their eggs to maintain the right temperature during the incubation period, the brush-turkey buries its eggs in the mound to leverage the constant heat byproduct of the decomposing organic matter to incubate its eggs. The nests are tended only by the males which have adapted a beak that is sensitive to temperature – a male will stick its beak into the mound to determine if the temperature of the mound is in the 91-95°F (33–35°C) incubation temperature range. The males will regulate the temperature by adding or removing material to fuel or slow down the decomposition process. In this way, the Australian Brush-turkey uses locally available materials to generate heat through the decomposition process to incubate its eggs. How cool is that??

So as you sit in your toasty warm house (heated likely by a coal-fired power plant, natural gas furnace, fuel oil or perhaps wind farms located in Iowa) perhaps ponder - Could you make a compost pile big enough to use the excess heat to warm your chicken coop in colder weather? (Check this out!) Or how about putting your compost pile in a greenhouse to keep your greenhouse warm all winter (and provide a shelter for keeping the composting process going through cold weather)? (Read more here!) Does your town have a composting program and can they capture that heat to heat a greenhouse or nearby facility? What would that look like? Are there other energy sources out there we just haven't been creative enough to tap into?

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