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Malleefowl usually pair for life
Geographical Region: Australasia
- Distribution & Habitat
- Description & Behaviour
- Threats & Conservation
- Interesting information
Distribution & Habitat
Malleefowl are adapted to live in mallee and grassy woodland, and dry coastal heaths. They need a habitat with a variety of seed bearing shrubs, herb growth and sufficient leaf litter to support insect life.
Description & Behaviour
Malleefowl are large ground dwelling birds but will take flight to roost in trees overnight and to escape immediate danger. They weigh about 1.5-2kg and are about 60cm tall, with males generally larger than females.
Both male and female adults are mottled black, brown and white in colour with a large black band from the neck to breast.
Malleefowl markings and lifestyle provide a perfect camouflage example specially adapted to the Australian bush. The birds may be seen when occasionally leaving the protection of the bush to feed in paddocks or cross roadways.
Some Malleefowl vocalisations include: three syllable booming (male - territorial),, soft lowing call (communication) and sharp grunt (alarm).
Malleefowl usually pair for life, though they do not interact much out of breeding season.
During the late winter the male rakes litter and soil into a mound which can be up to 6m in diameter and 1m deep. An egg chamber is scratched out in the top of the mound. Over many weeks the female lays 15 to 24 large eggs in the chamber at the top of the mound. The eggs together may weigh 2 ½ times as much as the female.
The eggs are buried within the mound for 50 – 100 days and as the leaf litter decays, it produces heat which incubates the eggs.
The male birds stay near the nest throughout incubation and keep the temperature at around 33°C by removing or replacing soil on the eggs. They test the temperature of the mound regularly with their beaks.
When the young are ready to hatch the male leaves the mound. The young must take care of themselves. They are born with full fight feathers and after one day can fly well and roost in trees. However current research has estimated that less than 2% of chicks survive.
Winter rain is important; in drought the Malleefowl may not breed.
Malleefowl feed on insects, seeds, native herbs and flowers. Acacia seeds are a favourite food item. Birds will drink readily in captivity but thrive in natural bushland during summer without surface water.
Threats & Conservation
Once common, their numbers have seriously declined over the last 100 years. Malleefowl have many threats including habitat loss, isolation of populations and introduced predators such as cats and foxes. They have few natural predators but bushfires can wipe out isolated populations as they cannot fly far or high to safety.
- They belong to a family of 22 bird species known as "megapodes" (meaning big feet).
- Malleefowl are unique to the arid and semi-arid regions of Australia. Megapode habitat is generally described as high rainfall tropical/subtropical, however the Malleefowl differs from other megapodes as a species of the lower rainfall Southern Australian landscapes.
- Other common names include;incubator bird, native pheasant; bush chook and Aboriginal names: gnow (naw, or ngow-o); lowan (low, or loan, Lawani); Nganamara.