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Mad for Malleefowl

Ben Parkhurst (Ecologist)
Published 25 Mar 2019 by Ben Parkhurst (Ecologist)

The scratches on my arms were beginning to sting as I pushed my way through thick acacia scrub on my way to check on a Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) mound in the south west of Eurardy, towards the boundary of Kalbarri National Park.

When I spotted fresh tracks ahead of me in the sand, my hopes soared.

The particular mound I was checking on was one of 20 mounds detected by recent Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) monitoring, which uses light, in the form of pulsed laser from a light aircraft, to map out mounds.

LiDAR data has not only helped us to identify a further 20 mounds on Eurardy, bringing the number of total known mounds to 30, but has given us insight into mound location by providing the GPS coordinates of each mound.

My quest today was to verify this mound on foot. As I closed in on the mound, I quickly noticed the tell-tale leaf litter and raked soil that signals a mound is active and my hopes were confirmed.

I had officially found Eurardy’s first active Malleefowl mound since 2008!

An industrious megapode

Roughly the size of a stocky domestic chicken, Malleefowl are what’s known as a megapode – also called incubator birds or mound builders.

Unlike other bird species, they do not incubate their eggs with body heat, but rather lay their eggs in a crater then cover them in leaf litter and soil. As this organic matter breaks down, it generates heat that incubates the eggs.

Malleefowl work around the clock to regulate the temperature of their mounds, removing or adding material to open and close the mound.

Malleefowl are considered Vulnerable under state and federal legislation so the discovery of an active mound is a promising sign for our conservation work. Eurardy is part of the National Malleefowl Recovery Team’s adaptive management experiment and we look forward to collaborating with the team further in the future.

Malleefowl around the country

Eurardy is only one Bush Heritage reserve among many providing habitat for Malleefowl. LiDAR surveys at Charles Darwin Reserve, on the northern edge of WA’s wheatbelt country, picked up more than 80 Malleefowl mounds, and an extensive survey late last year found record numbers of active mounds.

There are also Malleefowl on our reserves in south-west WA, near Albany, with mounds discovered last year in areas that were revegetated around six years ago.

We’ve recently confirmed the presence of Malleefowl on our Hamelin Station Reserve near Shark Bay, and are currently investigating the possibility of expanding future LiDAR surveys to Hamelin.

The active Malleefowl mound spotted on Eurardy Reserve in February 2019. As you can imagine, the sighting has sparked huge excitement for our Western Rangelands ecologist Ben Parkhurst.

A camera trip image depicting an industrious Malleefowl pair at our Monjebup North Reserve in WA's south west. Photo thanks to Angela Sanders.
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