Malleefowl Fact File
The malleefowl is similar in size to a chicken and is a member of the meagapode family meaning ‘large foot.’ These powerful legs and feet are used to dig in the ground when building their nest. Across the back their feathers colored rufous, grey, brown, white and buff with an intricate pattern of streaks, blotches and variegations. On the underside they have grey, creamy or buff feathers. Running down the breast is a long dark stripe.
This coloration allows them to blend in with the sandy soil in their habitat.
At the end of the body is a long, barred tail.
They have a small head with a short beak and a slight crest which is dark in color. This crest will be raised if they are alarmed.
Their wings are short and rounded. They rarely fly.
Females tend to be smaller and drabber than the males. An average length for the malleefowl is 61cm (24in) long with an average weight of 1-3kg (2.2-6.6lbs). Their wingspan is 70-90cm (27.6-35.4in) across.
The mallefowl is an omnivore. They feed on fruits, buds, berries, shoots, flowers, seeds and invertebrates.
They will search for food by scratching in the leaf litter or they may take them off small shrubs.
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Australia is the native home of the malleefowl. Here they can be found across Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
During the 20th century their range declined by around half.
They can be found in arid and semi-arid shrubland and woodland. Their habitat needs to have large amounts of sandy soil and leaf litter to allow for breeding.
Females will start to lay their eggs in September. Malleefowl are monogamous with pairs remaining together for life.
The nest is a large mound formed from leaves, sticks, bark and soil. This may measure up to 1.5m (5ft)high and be 4.5m (15ft) across. In to this mound between 2 and 35 eggs will be deposited and then covered over. The heat given off by the decomposing material incubates the eggs.
During the 11 week incubation period the pair will remain close by and monitor the temperature with their bill. They will regulate the temperature by adding or removing vegetation based on whether it is too cold or hot.
At the end of the incubation the chicks will dig their way out of the nest and can look after themselves.
Within 24 hours of their birth the chicks are able to fly.
Males create a loud, double-noted booming vocalization to protect their territory. The female produces a high crowing and the they will also make clucks, chuckles and grunts.
Predators and Threats
Introduced predators such as the red fox and feral cats affect their population.
When threatened they tend to freeze and wait for the predator to leave. Only on rare occasions will they fly away from a predator.
Humans have impacted their population through clearing the habitat for agriculture. Their population has become highly fragmented. An increase in fire activity further affects their population. Vehicle strikes affect them as they will feed on spilt grain on the road.
The malleefowl is also known as the gnow, lowan and the mallee hen.
This species was given a Latin name meaning ‘spotted egg-leaver’ by naturalist John Gould.
By butupa – IMGP7721.JPGUploaded by snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26758628
Leipoa_ocellata.jpg: The original uploader was Kr.afol at English Wikipedia.derivative work: Berichard (talk) – Leipoa_ocellata.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9085377
Ron Knight from Seaford, East Sussex, United Kingdom – Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63587064
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