Friday, 6 November 2015

Birding in Australia: The Megapodes of Australia...

There are three Megapodes in Australia and there is only one Megapode in India and that too in some islands of Nicobar.

The three Megapodes of Australia are
1. Malleefowl: that inhabits the central and southern Australia and that which I did not have the opportunity to see.
2. Australian Brush-turkey: The one that inhabits the rainforests of Australia and that I saw off and on almost till short of Sydney.
3. Orange-footed Scrubfowl: That inhabits the northern rainforests that I saw in Daintree.

Let us kill the fun facts of the birds falling under 'Megapode'.
Firstly Megapode means "large foot" (Greek: mega = large, poda = foot). They are also known as the Incubator birds or the mound-builders. They are stocky, medium-large chicken-like birds with small heads and large feet.
Secondly, they build large nests in the ground that are bedded with peat/rotting compost and covered with sand to insulate the nest to incubate the eggs. The amount of heat is tested by the parents and the sand insulation and in some cases the compost is varied to maintain the ideal temperatures. The nests can be 15 feet wide and upto 4 feet high nest mound.
Thirdly, when the chicks arrive they hatch with open eyes, full bodily coordination and strength, full wing and downy body feathers and are able to run, pursue prey and in some species fly the same day they hatch.
Finally, they are distributed around the pacific tropical islands and numbered 30 species. The man has managed to bring this number down to around 19 to 22 at present due to hunting/habitat destruction and introduction of rodents and foreign species like cats, dogs, snakes etc.

The two birds that I saw of the three...

1. Australian Brush-turkey: A common species that I saw on the very second day of my stay and then continued to see off and on, here and there. The bird otherwise is found in Eastern Australia and is an inhabitant of Tropic Australia along the east coast. Despite the similarities in name, looks and otherwise - it is not related to the American turkey. I was told that this bird has partially survived because "it does not taste good". Though they are sometimes hunted by the Aboriginals. Lucky for the bird I guess. The red wattle on the male is more prominent and becomes redder and bigger during the mating season.

Like I had said before the nest is huge by all standards. It is almost 4 m across in this bird's case and 1 to 1.5 m tall. The nesting is a communal ritual. The temperature of the mound is maintained by the turkey by checking it by sticking its beak in the mound. It is said that the temperature also dictates sex ratio like some reptiles. Some fun facts about the bird are that though the population now is stable - in 1930 the bird was approaching extinction. Secondly the tail feathers of the birds are standing vertical. Sorry for the pictures not showing the full tail as the birds usually popped up too close to me all the four five times I sighted them. Now I wish I would have taken a few more snaps.

2. Orange-footed Scrubfowl: This is the second megapode that I saw, though the sightings are primarily in the extreme North of my visit, North of Cairns and in Daintree. The Red Hill house in Daintree where we stayed had one nest right there with the male roaming around and visible off and
Orange-footed Scrubfowl

Notice the powerful feet of the bird.
on.  This is a chicken sized dark coloured bird with Orange feet and a pointed crest at the back of the head. This bird has five sub-species and the consensus is that the populations are stable. The fun facts about this bird is that the construction and maintenance of the mounds may reach a 4.5m (15 feet) height and almost 9m (30 feet) across and takes place throughout the year.

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