|Population||100,000 est (2000; decreasing)|
Mallee fowl are roughly chicken-sized birds, up to 2 feet (60 cm) in length and just over 5 pounds (2.5 kg) in weight. The predominant base color is gray, with the underside a creamy white color. Mottled brown, black, gray and white are on the upper surfaces of the wings, and a black stripe extends from throat to chest. Males are slightly larger than females; apart from size there is no difference in coloration. Juvenile birds are paler.
Feeding consists of seeds, tubers, flowers, herbs, fruit, insects and other invertebrates.
Habitat and Range
Mallee fowl inhabit the semi-arid areas of southern and southwest Australia, in which the land is dominated by the mallee eucalypts, a type of hardy eucalyptus plant that is drought-resistant and supplies a large amount of leaf litter for the birds to construct their nesting mounds.
Male mallee fowl spend nine to eleven months a year preparing a 3 ft by 6 ft (1 by 2 meters) mound - the largest mound built by the megapods - that will act as an incubating nest. The lower portion consists of twigs and leaves which is left exposed to the weather; rain allows decomposition of the material. It is then covered by a layer of sand, retaining the heat generated by the compost. A crater in the center is then created by the female, who lays between 15 and 30 eggs (one per day) during the months of September to February, covering them with sand. During the incubation period adult birds check the temperature of the nest using their beaks and either remove or add sand to maintain a temperature around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius).
When the eggs hatch the chicks break out of their shells, crawl through 2 feet of the nest material, and then can immediately run into scrub. Within 24 hours of hatching they can fly. Neither parent gives their offspring any more attention or training, yet instinct alone is sufficient for them to behave exactly as their parents did as adults.
Mallee fowl had a once-extensive range over much of Australia, but the past century resulted in a decline of over 50%; southern Australia has the only remaining populations of mallee fowl, and despite numbers estimated to be well over 100,000 individual birds it is known that concentrations of birds are fragmented, with a large number of abandoned mounds. The ICUN Red List classifies the bird as vulnerable in its remaining range, giving as threats introduced predators (foxes, feral dogs, etc.), uncontrolled wildfires, and expanding livestock grazing.
- Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 2 - "Raptors to Lapwings". Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press (1993).