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The Mallee Fowl: A Fascinating and Endangered Bird You Need to Know About

Mallee Fowl

Get to Know the Mallee Fowl From its Striking Appearance to its Elaborate Nesting Habits

The Mallee fowl is one of three megapodes (along with the Brush Turkey and the Orange-footed Scrub-fowl) in Australia, and the only one that lives in arid areas.

These birds are known for their elaborate nesting habits, which involve digging large mounds in the ground and using the heat from the decomposition of organic matter to incubate their eggs.

The Mallee Fowl, also known as the Leipoa ocellata, is a fascinating and unique bird found only in Australia. This species is known for its striking appearance, with males sporting a reddish-brown head, neck, and chest, as well as a distinctive wattle on their neck. The rest of the male’s body is a beautiful iridescent blue-green, while females are a more subdued brown color. This bird resembles a greyish mottled domestic Turkey in size and shape, but it is smaller, more compact, and stouter in the legs. There is no wattle around its neck, but a tuft of dark feathers falls back gracefully from the crown. Because of this tuft, some western native tribes refer to the bird as ‘Ngow-oo,’ ‘Ngnoweer,’ or a tuft of feathers. The bird was known as ‘Louan’ or ‘Low-an-ee’ by some eastern tribes.

It should be noted that the Mallee Fowl’s call is a mournful, prolonged, coo-like note that can be heard from nearly a mile away.

Distribution

The distribution of the Mallee Fowl is limited to the south-eastern part of Australia, including the states of Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales. They are not found in any other countries.

Mallee Fowl are classified as Vulnerable both nationally and on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They were once found across a large portion of mainland southern Australia. Their range shrank by half during the twentieth century.

They are now only found in arid and semi-arid areas of inland Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and central New South Wales.

Mallee fowl are thought to be extinct in the Northern Territory, where no records have been found since the 1960s.

The Mallee Fowl is a remarkable and truly solitary creature that lives in the drier and more arid scrubs of Australia’s southern half, preferring mallee (a species of dwarf eucalypt) timber tracts; hence the common name ‘Mallee’ Hen or Fowl. The Mallee Fowl is found in the dry, open woodlands of Australia’s interior, known as the “mallee” region. They are known to inhabit areas with dense shrub cover, as this provides them with the materials they need to build their mounds.

Diet

Because it lives on the ground, its diet consists primarily of insects, seeds and berries, and tender plant shoots. It can live without water, but it does drink when it rains. They are also known to eat fruits and berries when they are available.

Reproduction

Mallee fowl are monogamous, which means they mate for life, which in the wild is approximately 15 years. Even when the breeding season is over, the male and female spend the majority of their time together. Except during droughts, they breed every year.

The surprising thing about Mallee Fowl is it does not incubate its eggs as other birds do, but instead deposits them in a large mound of sand, where they are hatched by the sun’s rays and the heat generated by decomposing vegetation placed beneath the sand and eggs.

Mallee Fowl Mound

To construct a nest the bird chooses a slight hollow — invariably a shallow water-track in almost impenetrable scrub or bush — to build a new nest or mound. The area is hollowed out or scooped out and filled with dead leaves or other plant matter.

The area is hollowed out or scooped out and filled with dead leaves or other plant matter. Then everything is completely engulfed in sand, which the birds scrape up for several yards around, using their strong feet for scraping and their breast and wings to propel the sand forwards. By actual tape measurement, which I took on the spot, the dimensions of an ordinary mound (which is usually more or less cone-shaped) were ten feet in diameter at the base by about two feet in height. There appeared to be approximately 150 cubic feet of sand and trash.

Despite the mound’s massive size, the portion of the centre containing the eggs was only about fifteen inches in diameter. Only a pair of birds owns a mound, which they begin building (or repairing an old one) in June or July, though the female does not lay eggs until September or October. Without a doubt, the mound is so well prepared for winter and spring rains that it is left open for that purpose; the water collecting in the shallow course and consequently running through and underneath the leaves.

Mallee Fowl nest

The egg is unusually large in comparison to its parents, measuring approximately three and five-tenths by two and three-tenths inches and weighing approximately six and one-half ounces. The gestational period for these birds is around 38-41 days.

The parents don’t care for the chicks. As a result, naturalist John Gould chose the Latin name’spotted egg-leaver’. Few chicks survive; the majority are devoured by foxes, cats, and other predators.

Conservation Status

Unfortunately, the conservation status of the Mallee Fowl is currently listed as “near threatened.” This is due to a variety of factors, including habitat loss and degradation, as well as predation by introduced species such as foxes and cats.

In order to protect and conserve this unique species, a number of efforts are being undertaken. These include habitat restoration and management, as well as breeding programs and education campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the Mallee Fowl and its habitat.

As a species, the Mallee Fowl is truly one of a kind, with its striking appearance and elaborate nesting habits. It is a vital part of the ecosystem in which it lives, and it is important that we work to protect and conserve it for future generations. So next time you’re out exploring the beautiful mallee region of Australia, keep an eye out for these fascinating birds – and do your part to help preserve their habitat for the future.

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