Zoology

What are Megapodes



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Australia has a three birds belonging to the family called the Megapodidae (meaning big feet):  the Brush turkey, the orange-footed scrubfowl and the malleefowl.  These birds are classified in the order Galliformes, which also contains turkeys and chickens, and Megapodes are indeed, heavy, chicken-like birds.  The brush turkey and scrubfowl are rainforest birds while the malleefowl lives in much drier inland scrub country called mallee.

The malleefowl is a chicken-sized bird with cryptic plumage for hiding in the scrub.  They spend most of their time on the ground but can fly up to roosts when they choose to.  They have several calls including a booming territorial call and an alarm grunt. 

The orange-footed scrubfowl is the only scrubfowl to occur in Australia.  The other species are distributed throughout south east Asia.  This is a rainforest bird and other than its orange feet, its coloration is designed to be cryptic.  It shares this habitat with the larger, more visible brush turkey, which has a red head and yellow wattles.  Scrubfowl vocalisations have been described as gurgling and grunting.  Brush turkeys both boom and grunt.

All three birds feed by scraping the ground with their big feet, much like chickens, and eating any insects and invertebrates that they find.

Megapodes are also called mound builders because of their unique way of incubating their eggs.  Instead of the normal bird pattern of females sitting on nests, mallee fowl and other megapode males build large mounds, using their big feet to scrape together tonnes of leaf litter and mulch.  The mounds are compost heaps and the internal temperature rises as the material composts.  The males check the temperature with their beaks and when all is ready, mate with females who lay their eggs in the mound.  The males then guard their mounds and diligently check the temperature.  If it gets too hot, they scrape off the top layers.  If it gets too cool, they build the mound up.

The young use their strong bills to break through the eggshells.  When they hatch, they are precocial and quickly run away to find food and begin their own lives. 

Unfortunately being nearly flightless, malleefowl are subject to predation by introduced foxes and feral cats.  Malleefowl are now severely reduced in their range and considered to be threatened or endangered.  Brush turkeys are more secure in their range and seem to be more adaptable as they now are found in parks and even suburban back yards.  Orange footed scrubfowl are less well known but probably all right as long as their rainforest habitat is protected.

For more information:

 http://rainforest-australia.com/orange-footed_scrubfowl.html  

 http://www.malleefowl.com.au/malleefowl.aspx 



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