Malleefowl Fact File

Leipoa ocellata


1-3 kg






Wild - 10 years

Captive - 10 years



Plants, Insects

conservation status



There's nothing foul about this bird!

The malleefowl is found in the mallee of Australia. These animals rarely fly and instead they move along the ground using their large feet while they seek out insects and plants.


What does a Malleefowl look like?

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.

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.


How does the Malleefowl survive in its habitat?

Their coloration allows them to blend in with the sandy soil in their habitat.


What does a Malleefowl eat?

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.


Where do you the find the Malleefowl?

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.


Where can a Malleefowl survive?

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.

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Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata)


How does a Malleefowl produce its young?

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. Pairs will make use of the same nest site for several years.

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. Males perform most of the nest maintenance as the female requires large amounts of food to produce their eggs.

At the end of the incubation the chicks will dig their way out of the nest and can look after themselves. To reach the surface they may need to move through up to 1m of soil, a process which can take up to 15 hours.

Within 24 hours of their birth the chicks are able to fly and they care for themselves from birth. As a result mortality is high with as many as 80% of chicks not surviving their first year.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 4 years old.

This species is considered long-lived with the eldest individual recorded at 28 years old.


What does the Malleefowl do during its day?

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

What stops the Malleefowl from surviving and thriving?

Introduced predators such as the red fox and feral cats affect their population. Eggs are taken by monitor lizards.

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.

Quick facts

The malleefowl is also known as the gnow, lowan, thermometer bird, native pheasant and the mallee hen.

This species was given a Latin name meaning ‘spotted egg-leaver’ by naturalist John Gould.


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Department of Parks and Wildlife. (2016). Fauna profiles: Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata. Retrieved from:

BirdLife International. 2016. Leipoa ocellata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22678646A92782728. Downloaded on 16 December 2020. 2020. Wild - Malleefowl: Melbourne Museum. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 December 2020]. 2020. Malleefowl - Profile | NSW Environment, Energy And Science. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 December 2020].

AWC - Australian Wildlife Conservancy. 2020. Malleefowl - AWC - Australian Wildlife Conservancy. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 December 2020].

Bush Heritage Australia. 2020. Malleefowl - Bush Heritage Australia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 December 2020]. 2020. Malleefowl | Birdlife Australia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 December 2020].

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