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Malleefowl recovery and monitoring – Goonoo National Park

March Irvin, Senior Threatened Species Officer
North West Region Regional Operations Group, Office of Environment and Heritage

Malleefowl are an amazing native bird that live across semi-arid regions of the southern states. These birds build a nest of leaf litter, sticks and earth to around 3 to 4 meters in diameter.  This is a huge amount of work which starts in mid-winter when they start cleaning out the nest from last year and digging a crater in the middle.  Then they start gathering leaf litter and sticks in to wind rows extending out from the edge of the mound. When enough litter has been gathered the Malleefowl scrape the wind rows into the mound crater. To this point the Malleefowl has been preparing the mound for around two months or more. The next step in the process is very important, and beyond the control of the Malleefowl, as rain is needed to dampen the leaf litter to begin the decomposition process.  As the leaf litter decomposes it generates heat just like a compost heap, this in turn provides the heat to incubate the eggs.

Now the mound is built and ready to start laying eggs the work doesn’t end there. There is a huge effort every day for the Malleefowl to dig open the mound to lay eggs, and regulate the inside of the mound to a consistent temperature. Over the breeding season the Malleefowl will move more than 100 tonnes of earth as they maintain the mound.  Though the male bird does most of the digging that doesn’t mean the female has and easy time. As wells as contributing to some of the digging she has to find food and stay healthy as she lays up to one and a half times her own body weight in eggs for the season.

In NSW Malleefowl occur in the Mallee country in the south west corner of NSW through to the central Mallee around Mt Hope (between Griffith and Cobar).  There is also the eastern most population of Malleefowl here in the central west in the Goonoo region. The Goonoo population is somewhat unusual in that the habitat used by Malleefowl is Cypress Ironbark rather than the Mallee habitats it’s known for elsewhere.

The Malleefowl is endangered in NSW because their distribution has shrunk considerably and they also have to deal with threats such as cats, foxes, goats and pigs within this restricted range.  In Goonoo we know of around 20 nest locations on the National Park Estate but there is potentially suitable habitat on surrounding properties as well. Of the known mounds in Goonoo none have been actively used by Malleefowl for the last three years.  As mentioned earlier, Malleefowl will actively work their mound for several hours a day for up to seven months of the year; making them and ideal species to monitoring. Even though we haven’t seen any breeding activity recently we still receive details of a few Malleefowl sightings each year. It is likely that the Malleefowl are breeding in the Goonoo region but the problem is we don’t know where all the mounds are located so we can’t keep an eye on them.

Knowing where the Malleefowl are will help us to know how many breeding pairs are out there and it is very important to help justify the enormous effort that goes into fox control in the region.  We are trying to understand help Malleefowl in the Goonoo region to ensure they are still around for generations to come.