Well Malleefowl are a very, very unusual bird. They belong to a small family of unusual birds that use external sources of heat to incubate their eggs, such as volcanic heat or just warm sand on beaches, and sometimes big mounds of rotting vegetation. But most of these birds live in the tropics where the temperatures are quite warm to start off with.
Malleefowl is an exception in that little family, called the Megapodes, as well because they live in desert areas, very, very dry areas, where the temperatures fluctuate very, very widely through the year and get terribly cold even in summer sometimes at night, and there isn’t the moisture to rot vegetation down and incubate their eggs.
So the Malleefowl has evolved this very, very sophisticated way of incubating it’s eggs, without using body heat and it does this by creating a very, very large mound, perhaps four or five metres in diameter, and filling it with leaf litter and then waiting for the winter rains to completely saturate that leaf litter. They cover it over with sand, trapping the moisture, trapping the leaf litter, it starts to rot and produces heat, which is also trapped inside this sand structure and that’s how they incubate their eggs.
For such an unusual bird the Malleefowl really did splendidly. It occupied a huge part of Australia, perhaps 20% or so or perhaps even more, right up through the desert areas and it occurred almost to Melbourne. It was recorded in Melton and Bacchus Marsh and then right up through past Alice Springs and right across to the west coast. However in the last two hundred years the country’s been cut up, there’s been a lot of clearing and of course the introduction of foxes and cats into Australia in the last 200 years. They’ve all created problems for the Malleefowl. We have seen some very drastic declines in some areas, so there’s a great deal of concern.
Well one thing in the Malleefowl’s favour is it’s a very popular bird, especially in amongst locals, amongst the farmers who might see them in the back paddock or whatever. And this is a great advantage for Malleefowl because they have people who care and they also have a lot of volunteers who have become involved in trying to help them as well. I think we can handle a lot of the problems that Malleefowl are facing now, through research programs and the adaptive management and volunteer programs, but what’s coming ahead is an entirely different situation. Climate change threatens not just creatures like Malleefowl but ourselves as well and the changes could be gigantic.