A Fowl Tale

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a very special bird that everyone was looking for – the Malleefowl!

One of Australia’s curiosities, the Malleefowl does not build a nest like most other birds. Instead it uses its strong feet to scrape large amounts of leaf litter and sand from the ground and into a large pile. The eggs are then laid into a cavity at the top of the mound and covered over.

As the leaf litter begins to compost, it generates heat and this is used to incubate the eggs, rather than sitting on them. The male Malleefowl checks the temperature of his breeding mound regularly, and scrapes material onto or off the mound to keep the temperature just right.

During National Bird Week NACC staff joined Bush Heritage and their dedicated volunteers for a week of mallefowl madness.

Funding from Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association WA was used to produce LiDAR imagery to detect malleefowl mounds in the region, this will allow for a more efficient method of searching larger areas.

Click on the gallery below for a closer look…

LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.

These light pulses (combined with other data recorded by the airborne system) generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.

The enthusiastic group spent several days hiking across Charles Darwin Reserve and checking the accuracy of the LIDAR data. While some were disappointments, on the whole most were old malleefowl mounds and a handful were active. But alas, none of the elusive malleefowl were seen.

Until on the drive to our final sight, Bush Heritage’s Regional Ecologist Vanessa Westcott pulled the car over and exclaimed “Look a Major Mitchell Cockatoo – that is a good sign for today!” And lo and behold about one hour later NACC’s Biodiversity Coordinator Jessica Stingemore was staring face to face with a malleefowl.

“We had been trudging our way through the thick undergrowth and out of the blue we saw a massive mound appear. And then we saw a flicker of movement – a malleefowl. We watched it for about two minutes before it just melted away into the bush.  We were awestruck.”

While the focus of the surveys was to ground truth the LIDAR data, a field trip to Charles Darwin is not complete without some sightseeing. And other marvellous curiosities sighted on the trip included an old stick nest rat nest, gnamma holes, granite lizard traps, baby birds, salmon gums, trap door spiders.

Fun Fact

Malleefowl are one of three mound-building birds – also known as megapodes – in Australia, and the only species that live in arid areas. The others are the Brush Turkey and the Orange-footed Scrub-fowl.

To volunteer for this project or to find other citizen-science projects, please visit the Bush Heritage website.

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