Australian Bush Birds
Malleefowl, Lowan  -  Leipoa ocellata
Malleefowl Malleefowl
These photographs show the camouflage effect of Mallee fowl colouring. It is particularly difficult to identify the bird's outline
Malleefowl Head and neck.(Little Desert, Vic)
map map The Malleefowl, or Lowan, - Leipoa ocellata - has grey head, neck and breast; the bill and area between bill and eye are grey. Throat is a light chestnut with black central streak down to breast. Upper parts barred white and blotched brown, black and grey. Under parts light fawn. Legs dark grey. Grows to 60 centimetres long. Juveniles are dull brown, barred.

Lives in dry inland scrub and mallee. Feeds by scratching in leaf litter.

Very shy and wary. If disturbed remains motionless (when its colouring makes it extremely difficult to see) or walks into concealing thickets. Flies only if surprised or pursued; flight is heavy and laboured. The photographs above show how mallee fowl colouring makes it very difficult to see in its native environment. These photographs were taken at a Mallee fowl sanctuary in the Little Desert in Victoria.

The mallee fowl is a mound builder and incubates its eggs by burying them in a mound of leaf litter. Mounds are usually about five metres in diameter and a metre high and formed as a circular mound around an inner pit (the egg chamber) which is filled in winter with leaf litter raked from under nearby trees with the mallee fowl's legs and feet. After rain saturates the litter the egg chamber is covered over with sand, the organic material begins fermenting and the temperature begins to rise.

By spring the mound is warm enough for egg laying. The bird opens the mound down to the egg chamber for the hen to lay; average clutch is 15 to 20 eggs; during drought only five may be laid or none in an extreme season.

Malleefowl - page 2
Temperature in the mound is maintained at approximately 32°C by removing sand in mid-morning so the sun's warmth can penetrate the egg chamber then replacing sand in the afternoon to insulate the egg chamber.

Incubation period is six to eight weeks. After hatching, the chicks have to struggle up through the mound by themselves; the parents do not help in any way and ignore their own offspring if they encounter them. Once clear of the mound chick begin independent lives. Mallee fowl chicks are among the most advanced newly-hatched birds, being fully feathered and able to fly within a few hours of hatching.

Found in areas of low-growing trees and shrubs from central New South Wales into western Victoria, south-eastern and southern South Australia and southern Western Australia south of Shark Bay.

Scarce and endangered, sedentary. Clearing of mallee has reduced their habitat and hunting by introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats are a major threat, especially to newly hatched chicks.