Leipoa – Malleefowl

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

Malleefowl is a ground-dwelling bird endemic to Australia, renowned for its unique reproductive behavior and as an indicator of the health of the Australian mallee ecosystems. It is not just a species of interest to ornithologists but is also culturally significant to Indigenous Australians, featuring in their art and stories.

Physically resembling a domestic chicken, malleefowl are shy, elusive birds, adept at camouflaging themselves within their habitat. Their plumage is predominantly brown with intricate patterns that mimic the dappled sunlight of their native scrubland, aiding in their concealment from predators. Though capable of flight, malleefowl typically fly only in dire circumstances, such as escaping from threats. Instead, they rely on their excellent running ability and instinct to freeze and blend into the background to avoid detection.

Their omnivorous diet includes seeds, fruits, flowers, insects, and other small animals, which they forage from the leaf litter of the forest floor. They prefer areas with sparse undergrowth, which is characteristic of the mallee, a type of shrubland or small tree vegetation found in semi-arid areas of Australia.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Malleefowl behavior is their breeding practice, which involves the construction of an incubation mound by the male. These mounds are large earth structures, sometimes measuring up to 5 meters in diameter and 1 meter in height, built with a mixture of sand, soil, and organic matter like leaves and twigs. The decomposition of organic material within the mound generates heat, which is used to incubate the eggs.

Malleefowl males are meticulously attentive to the temperature within the mound, maintaining it around 33°C (91°F). They do so by opening and closing the mound to regulate heat from the sun and the ongoing decomposition process. Remarkably, the male tests the temperature by inserting its beak into the mound, showcasing a sophisticated natural instinct for thermoregulation.