Australian Bush Birds
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Orange-footed Scrubfowl  -  Megapodius reinwardt
photograph
Orange-footed Scrubfowl has an unusual pointed crest on the head.
map map The Orange-footed Scrubfowl - Megapodius reinwardt - is a medium-size (about 40 centimetres) bird, about the size of a domestic fowl. It is dull-coloured in bright light and in rainforest gloom appears almost black. The body is mid olive-brown, dark chestnut or dusky brown, according to subspecies; face, neck and under parts are mid to dark slate grey or dark blue; head is brown to dusky. Bill is dark olive-brown, sometimes reddish-brown. Legs and feet are orange.

A dark brown pointed crest on top of the head is distinctive.

This is the smallest of the three Australian mound-building species (the others are the Malleefowl - Leipoa ocellata and the Brush-turkey - Alectra lathami) living in the forests of north Australia between the Kimberley and about Rockhampton on the Queensland coast.

Orange-footed Scrubfowls probably mate for life. Pairs maintain an exclusive foraging territory throughout the year, these territories may be up to two hectares and may, or may not include a breeding mound. Resident pairs advertise and defend their territory by calls at night from a favoured roost. Pairs spend the day on the forest floor scratching in the litter for food: fallen fruit and seeds, shoots, insects or snails. If disturbed the birds may run heavily or fly to a low branch.

Scrubfowls use large mounds for breeding; several pairs may share a single mound. Of the three mound-builders the Scrubfowl has the biggest mounds reaching up to three metres high and six or seven metres across. Mounds include much vegetable material which produces the heat to hatch the eggs by fermentation. Each mound is used for several years; each year the pair dig out the top of the mound and refill it with leaves and soil scraped from the forest floor within 150 metres of the mound. The pair then dig holes one to two metres into the mound, apparently to check the condition of the mound; they dig a small hole at the bottom into which they put their heads several times, apparently to check the temperature. When the temperature reaches 29° to 35°C laying begins and eggs are laid. 3 to 13 eggs are laid; pale brown stained dark brown; about 90 by 52 millimetres. After laying, the eggs are packed with a layer of about 30 centimetres of warm, decomposing material overlain with cooler material.

Chicks develop in the large eggs to an advanced stage before they hatch within the mound. Hatchlings dig their way to the surface unaided. They can run immediately and their wings are developed enough for them to flutter for short distances half an hour after hatching. They receive no assistance from their parents and are entirely independent.

Information
   Field Guide to Australian Birds - Morecombe, pages 16-17.
   Field Guide to the Birds of Australia - Simpson & Day, pages 20-21.
   Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds - page 158.
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