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The Incredible Malleefowl of Gluepot Reserve

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 4 November 2023 | Views [45]

A final glare as we left—Malleefeowl at Gluepot Reserve

A final glare as we left—Malleefeowl at Gluepot Reserve

MALLEEFOWL ARE PERHAPS THE MOST ICONIC BIRDS in Gluepot and second to the Black-eared Miner as the most endangered. Malleefowl are large birds, growing to nearly two feet and weighing five pounds. Although they are strong flyers they rely more on their camouflage and fleetness afoot for escape. Their rarity poses a dilemma for birders who like to brag about their rare bird sightings while at the same time want to protect the species by keeping the location secret.


                        Mallee Bushes, perfect habitat

Extrapolating from a vague Facebook post, recent eBird data and a Gluepot map, Connie came up with a plan. But first we had to cross the river and negotiate the rough roads back to Gluepot. Her diligence and some plain dumb luck put us on the right trail. John counted paces, pirate-style, and sure enough, poking through the mallee bushes, there was what could be a Malleefowl nest mound. The nearby remote camera could have been shouting “X marks the spot.”


                         Malleefowl Nest Mounds can be 3 feet high and 10 feet across


                      X Marks the Spot! Remote Malleefowl camera

In winter a male Malleefowl will scrape a depression into the ground about three meters across and nearly a meter deep. In spring he begins to fill his hole with wet leaf litter which will give off heat as it decays, scraping from as far as 50 meters from the mound. Once the female has laid an egg the male covers the depression with up to a meter of dirt and sand by kicking the dirt backward with his feet.  


                          At first we kept still and watched 


                         Male Malleefowl on his Nest Mound too busy to worry about us

We sat on the trailside and waited patiently. Connie read that the male monitors the  temperature several times an hour. After ten minutes he appeared on top of the mound. At first we sat very still. Soon it was obvious that he had serious work to perform and didn’t care about us so we were able to move around for a better angle. After he finished his chores~Poof!~and he was gone!


                 Mallefowl may move 300 tons of sand a season by kicking with their feet

In spring, when the vegetation decays the male’s job is to remove the dirt to keep the temperature at a constant 33°C, which it is thought he monitors with his tongue. In summer he covers the mound with even more sand, to protect it from the sun’s heat, scattering the sand to cool in the morning and replacing it as the temperature rises. While the male is busy with temperature control, the female lays an egg every 4 or 8 days and helps with the digging. She may lay a total of two dozen large eggs between September and February. As incredible as it sounds, a Malleefowl pair may move 300 tons of sand each season!

Malleefowl seldom see their chicks. When they can no longer control the temperature, they desert the mound leaving the chicks to fend for themselves. It may take up to 15 hours for a chick to dig its way out of the mound. Many eggs hatch and although Malleefowl can fly almost immediately, few chicks survive to maturity.



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