News from the Field, Press Release

Rare Malleefowl nest detected at South Australian sanctuary

30 Nov. 2023
W Lawler/AWC

A team of scientists has recorded evidence that a rare bird, the Malleefowl, is breeding at Dakalanta Wildlife Sanctuary on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula (Nauo Country) for the first time in decades. Ecologists from Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) were conducting routine biodiversity surveys in October when they stumbled across one of the huge mound nests made by the ground-dwelling birds.

The discovery surprised AWC Senior Field Ecologist Keith Bellchambers, who first spotted the mound. “I was just wandering through the mallee recording all the regular birds when I came across this big mound of dirt,” he said. “I thought to myself – that doesn’t look like a wombat burrow!”

AWC ecologists carry out biodiversity surveys annually at Dakalanta to assess the sanctuary’s overall ecological health and the status of threatened species. Bird surveys have confirmed 89 species on the sanctuary to date, including the Copperback Quail-thrush, Shy Heathwren, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater and Emu. The Malleefowl, a nationally listed threatened species, was first recorded at Dakalanta in 2022.

Malleefowl Mound S Runciman / AWC
“It was just amazing,” said Bellchambers, who has been leading surveys at the sanctuary since 2010. “We cover a lot of ground during surveys, including a lot of bush bashing, so if they had been there all along you’d think we would have seen one.”

The Malleefowl belongs to a unique family of birds that incubate their eggs in carefully constructed mounds of soil and vegetation, which they rake together with their huge feet and strong legs. In the lead-up to breeding, the adult birds spend a lot of time preparing the mound, which they tend to diligently throughout incubation.

“I didn’t get too close because I didn’t want to disturb the nest. I could tell the mound was being used because of the fresh dirt and tracks in the sand nearby,” said Bellchambers.

Malleefowl are confronting a range of threatening processes which puts populations at risk. Large areas of the birds’ preferred woodland and shrubland habitat was cleared historically for farming. Their nesting habits make Malleefowl eggs and newly hatched chicks especially vulnerable to predators including introduced foxes and cats. Wildfires can render habitat unsuitable for up to 15 years..

The AWC ecologists plan to monitor the nest and record any breeding activity in coming years.

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