Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), Australian galliformes, are known for their large nesting mounds, which may be more than 13 feet in diameter and over 3 feet high.
The malleefowl is a megapode.
The malleefowl gets its name from the fact that it lives in the mallee forests of southern Australia.
Mallee forests are semi-arid habitat where mallee eucalyptus, a type of short eucalyptus plant, grows.
Malleefowl are about the same size as domestic chickens.
They are timid, solitary birds.
Malleefowl spend most of their time on the ground, but they will fly up onto tree branches to escape danger.
They also rely on camouflage - they have markings that allow them to blend into their surroundings - to avoid predators.
In the winter (from June to August in Australia), the male mallee fowl uses his feet to scrape a hole in soil, usually in an open clearing.
From winter until early spring, he fills the hole with sticks, sand and leaves, so that, eventually, a large mound is formed.
The male visits the mound at least once a day.
As time passes, the organic material decays. This process heats up the mound.
In August, the male - sometimes with the female's help - digs an egg chamber.
The female lays her eggs between September and February (spring and summer).
A clutch may contain anywhere from 2 to more than 30 eggs.
Eggs are laid from about 3 to abou 10 days apart.
After the female lays her eggs, male and female work together to maintain the temperature of the mound.
The male frequently uses his beak to check the temperature.
It the mound's temperature grows too high, the birds will open up the mound to cool it off.
If the mound becomes too cool, they will add more sand and leaves to the nest to warm it up.
They maintain the temperature of the mound so that it constantly remains very close to 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
In autumn (from March to May in Australia), they will open the nest so the Sun's heat can reach the eggs. They will also turn the nesting material over so it gets warm.
Before nightfall, they place the warmed up nesting material back on top of the eggs so the eggs stay warm, and at a constant temperature, overnight.
Malleefowl spend between 9 and 11 months each year building and maintaining their nesting mounds.
Once the chicks hatch, it takes the chicks between 2 and 15 hours to escape from the mound.
Because the eggs are laid sepately, the chicks hatch separately, and have no contact with each other inside the mound.
Once they have left the mound, they chicks continue to live apart from each other. They also live separately from their parents. They receive no parental care after they have left the mound.
The malleefowl is an endangered species.
Factors that have contributed to the decline in their population include:
- Predation by animals not native to Australia, such as foxes and domestic cats
- Habitat loss due to fires and to clearing for human use
- Drought caused by climate change.