Chordates • Earth.com

Malleefowl

(Leipoa ocellata)

galery

Description

The malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) is a stocky ground-dwelling Australian bird about the size of a domestic chicken (to which it is distantly related). It is notable for the large nesting mounds constructed by the males and lack of parental care after the chicks hatch. It is the only living representative of the genus Leipoa, though the extinct giant malleefowl was a close relative. Malleefowl are shy, wary, solitary birds that usually fly only to escape danger or reach a tree to roost in. Although very active, they are seldom seen as they freeze if disturbed, relying on their intricately patterned plumage to render them invisible, or else fade silently and rapidly into the undergrowth (flying away only if surprised or chased). They have many tactics to run away from predators. It occupies semiarid mallee scrub on the fringes of the relatively fertile areas of southern Australia, where it is now reduced to three separate populations: the Murray-Murrumbidgee basin, west of Spencer Gulf along the fringes of the Simpson Desert, and the semiarid fringe of Western Australia's fertile southwest corner. Pairs occupy a territory, but usually roost and feed apart; their social behavior is sufficient to allow regular mating during the season and little else. In winter, the male selects an area of ground, usually a small, open space between the stunted trees of the mallee, and scrapes a depression about 3 m (9.8 ft) across and just under 1 m (3.3 ft) deep in the sandy soil by raking backwards with his feet. In late winter and early spring, he begins to collect organic material to fill it with, scraping sticks, leaves, and bark into windrows for up to 50 m (160 ft) around the hole, and building it into a nest mound, which usually rises to about 0.6 m (2.0 ft) above ground level. The amount of litter in the mound varies; it may be almost entirely organic material, mostly sand, or any ratio in between. After rain, he turns and mixes the material to encourage decay, and if conditions allow, digs an egg chamber in August (the last month of the southern winter). The female sometimes assists with the excavation of the egg chamber, and the timing varies with temperature and rainfall. The female usually lays between September and February, provided enough rain has fallen to start organic decay of the litter. The male continues to maintain the nest mound, gradually adding more soil to the mix as the summer approaches (presumably to regulate the temperature).

Taxonomic tree:

Domain:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum:
Class: Aves
Order:Galliformes
Family:Megapodiidae
Genus:Leipoa
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