Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata)
Malleefowl are large, ground dwelling birds. The mottled grey, brown, tan and black feathers provide excellent camouflage. Their white throat has a conspicuous vertical black streak and their underbelly is white or light brown. There are no easily recognizable differences in appearance between males and females, although males are slightly larger than females.
Malleefowl are found in semi-arid to arid shrublands and low woodlands dominated by mallee and/or acacia.
Within Western Australia (WA), malleefowl were once found from north of Canarvon through to the south-west corner of the state, and were widely distributed throughout the southern rangelands. They currently have a somewhat patchy distribution within the central and eastern wheatbelt, southern rangelands and the great southern region, from Peron Peninsula to the coastal strip of mallee south of the Nullarbor Plain. Their conservation status is considered vulnerable.
The effect of fire on malleefowl is severe and breeding in extensively burnt areas is usually reduced for at least 30 years. Malleefowl prefer unburnt areas of bushland with a varied shrub-layer rich in food sources and vegetative material needed for mound construction.
The malleefowl mound
The malleefowl has been described as one of the world's hardest working birds. This is because malleefowl spend up to 300 days a year digging and maintaining the nest mound with their large and powerful feet. The eggs are laid in the mound, buried and incubated partly by heat generated from decomposing leaves and twigs and partly with heat from the sun.
What is their diet?
Malleefowl feed opportunistically on insects, seeds (including cultivated grain), berries, native herbs and flowers. They do not need much to drink, obtaining moisture from their food.
What threatens their survival?
There are a number of threats facing malleefowl, including:
- Land Clearing: loss and fragmentation of habitat is a primary threat to malleefowl.
- Predation: foxes and cats are the main predators of malleefowl. Raptors, goannas, currawong and ravens have also been known to hunt chicks.
- Competition: grazing by stock, feral goats, rabbits and kangaroos severely reduces habitat quality for malleefowl.
- Wildfire and increased fire frequency: as malleefowl favour shrublands with plenty of ground litter, fire is a key threat to the species.
- Scattered populations: populations of malleefowl are now fragmented and isolated, increasing their vulnerability to bushfires and disease.
Where to find it
The mallee fowl can be seen on the sides of the roads and paddocks foraging for food in the early evenings and mornings all year around.