Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Malleefowl conservation projects in the southern rangelands contribute to national efforts

[June 2015]

Will you Mallee me?

The Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association (GRCA) Inc.[1] has funded two new projects in the southern rangelands of Western Australia to protect the Malleefowl, a ground nesting bird unique to southern Australia.

MalleefowlMalleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) was once was widespread from the west to east coasts of Australia but is now listed as Vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 due to land clearing in the agricultural areas, and predators such as foxes and cats. In some areas the impact of road kill is also decimating Malleefowl populations.

The North Central Malleefowl Preservation Group (NCMPG), based in the Dalwallinu Shire, is monitoring malleefowl mounds in four sites in their area.

The sites were originally surveyed (searched) to locate and identify the mounds, with annual monitoring during the breeding season to record various information (most importantly whether the mound is active or not). This data is added to the national database set up by the National Malleefowl Recovery Team (NMRT).

Training volunteers in Mallefowl mound monitoringGordon McNeill of the NCMPG said with new project funding from the GRCA, they are continuing their Malleefowl field training and monitoring work, building on the success of their 2014 Malleefowl Volunteer Support Project.

“By offering this field training for volunteers in monitoring we aim to increase membership of the NCMPG and participation in Malleefowl protection,” he said.

With greater participation we’ll be able to monitor all sites for the 2015’2016 season and upload all data gathered onto the National Malleefowl Database to contribute to the National Malleefowl Recovery Plan

The training will conform to best practice as described in the National Malleefowl Monitoring Manual.

Also being funded by the GRCA is the collaborative Malleefowl Mound Identification Project, bringing together the NCMPG, Bush Heritage Australia, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Bell Family at Ninghan Station.

Malleefowl moundData will be gathered by remote sensing through light detection and ranging (LiDAR) in order to detect Malleefowl mounds in selected areas within the Gunduwa region.

LiDAR imagery is a new, more efficient method of searching larger areas to detect mounds.

As well as contributing to one of Australia’s largest species databases, the information gathered from this project will be a key component in the ambitious Adaptive Management Research Project run by the University of Melbourne.

Three other sites are monitored for Mallefowl in the nearby rangelands at Charles Darwin Reserve, owned by Bush Heritage, Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mount Gibson Sanctuary and at the Mount Gibson Mining’s mine lease.

Further research is planned for the region.

Rangelands NRM is a member of the GRCA.

Interesting Malleefowl facts:
  • Malleefowl incubate their eggs in a mound using the heat generated by damp leaf litter gathered during winter which ferments similar to a compost heap. The eggs are laid into the mound during spring and summer at the rate of about one per week. When the heat from the fermentation weakens heat from the sun is used and is stored in the mound soil to continue incubation during summer.
  • Malleefowl work on their nest mound for up to eleven months of the year and while their eggs incubating they open the mound up every day to either lay another egg or check the temperature of the eggs already laid. The temperature of the mound is checked by the bird pushing its beak into the soil and the birds adjust the shape of the mound to maintain the temperature at about 32 degrees.
  • Not only do Malleefowl not sit on their eggs like other birds to incubate them but once hatched, they do not look after their young in any way. The eggs hatch after about sixty days incubation and the young Malleefowl dig their way to the surface of the mound to fend for themselves. They hatch fully feathered so can fly soon after but are at their most vulnerable to predators at that time.
  • Malleefowl are not easy to see. Their markings and lifestyle provide perfect camouflage especially adapted to the Australian bush. As a result, the birds are mostly only seen when leaving the protection of the bush to feed in paddocks, or to cross roadways.

Records of Malleefowl sites in Western Australia

If you see a Malleefowl, please register the sighting using the online form on the Malleefowl Preservation Group website

For more information please contact Gordon McNeill from the North Central Malleefowl Preservation Group.

[1] The Gunduwa region is the area bordered by Beacon, Wubin, Morawa and Payne’s Find. It contains the botanical transitional zone between the woodlands of the wheatbelt and the expansive mulga zone of the interior. The Great Northern Highway between the Wubin and Payne’s Find transects country rich in natural diversity farms, pastoral lands, woodlands, salt lakes, shrub lands, and the banded iron and greenstone hills of the surrounding rangelands.

Article by Gordon McNeill, North Central Malleefowl Preservation Group and Mary-Anne Clunies-Ross, Rangelands NRM Regional Landcare Faciliator.

Images
  1. Malleefowl by Sharon Gillam.
  2. Dr Joe Benshemesh (Principal Malleefowl Researcher) from Melbourne training volunteers to monitor malleefowl mounds at the NCMPG monitoring workshop in August 2014.
  3. A malleefowl mound showing the leaf litter brought in by the malleefowl before it is domed over with soil, August 2014.
  4. Records of Malleefowl in Western Australia.  Records are grouped in time periods that contain similar numbers of records across Australia. More recent records overlie older records.