Malleefowl

One of the three mound-building birds in Australia and the only one living in arid areas

Mallee Fowl, Ongerup

An intriguing ground-dwelling bird native to the semi-arid mallee eucalypt scrub and woodland in southern Australia. This remarkable bird is known for its elaborate nesting habits and the unique way it incubates its eggs.

Resembling a domestic chicken in size and shape, Malleefowl are shy and elusive birds. While they can fly, they prefer to walk and will typically take to the air only as a last resort to escape danger. Their plumage is primarily brown and camouflaged, allowing them to blend into the forest floor to avoid detection by predators. They have developed several tactics for hiding from enemies, including freezing in place and quickly running to cover.

Malleefowl are omnivores, foraging on a variety of seeds, fruits, flowers, insects, and small vertebrates. They show a preference for areas with sparse ground cover, which makes foraging for food easier and may also reduce the risk of predation.

One of the most distinctive behaviors of the Malleefowl is the male’s construction of a large incubation mound. The male spends months building and maintaining this mound, which is made up of a mixture of sand, leaf litter, and other organic material. The decomposition of the organic matter generates heat, which is used to incubate the eggs. Malleefowl are meticulous in regulating the temperature of the mound, which they do by opening and closing vents to let in air or by adding and removing layers of material to adjust insulation. The male will often stick its beak into the mound to check the temperature, maintaining it at around 33°C (91°F).

Males are monogamous during the breeding season, and the female lays a clutch of eggs in the mound. Once the eggs are laid, it is entirely up to the male to ensure they are incubated properly. The chicks are super-precocial, hatching fully feathered and capable of fending for themselves, including digging out of the mound, which can take several hours.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Australia
2,800
Official estimate
EN
2022
New South Wales
Australia
4,900
Official estimate
VU
2022
South Australia
Australia
6,000
Official estimate
EN
2022
Victoria
Australia
11,300
Official estimate
VU
2022
Western Australia

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No