Macrocephalon – Maleo

Large distinctive megapode only habituating the Indonesian island of Sulawesi that breeds throughout the year

Maleo, a bird endemic to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, is an intriguing species notable for its unique reproductive behavior and its survival challenges. With a large head compared to its body size, the Maleo’s distinctive appearance is matched by its singular nesting habits and its current critical conservation status.

Maleos are monogamous birds that form long-term pair bonds. They inhabit the hill forests of Sulawesi, but they are particularly renowned for their nesting in areas with geothermal activity, such as volcanic soils and warm beaches, as well as riversides where the temperatures are naturally high enough to incubate their eggs. These unique nesting sites are essential for the survival of their species, as the warmth of the earth acts as a natural incubator.

The female Maleo plays a vital role in the reproduction process by digging a deep hole in the warm sand or soil, laying a single, large egg, and then covering it. Remarkably, the egg of the Maleo is up to five times larger than that of a domestic chicken, which provides the hatchling with a substantial amount of yolk to sustain it after hatching.

The status of the Maleo is of great concern to conservationists. Classified as Critically Endangered, the species has suffered a dramatic decline in numbers, with an estimated 90% population decrease over the past 60 years. The current population is believed to consist of only 4,000 to 7,000 breeding pairs, with the number declining rapidly. Of the 142 known nesting grounds, only a handful remain non-threatened, pointing to the severe impact of human activities and environmental changes on the Maleo’s habitat.

The primary threats to the Maleo include egg poaching, as their eggs are considered a local delicacy and are often collected for consumption. Habitat loss due to wildfires, particularly those in 2000 and 2004, has also devastated large swaths of forest, further exacerbating the loss of suitable habitat for the Maleo.