Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Really Weird Birds Part 9

A bird very few have even heard of, the Maleo, is found only on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.   They have black upper parts and white under parts that are tinted with a rosy salmon color.  Their head is adorned with a helmet casque, which is thought to protect them from the sun.  
 The Maleo is about the size of a domestic hen.  
It is included in a group of birds called the Megapodes, or family Megapodiidae.  They are characterized by small heads and big feet!  They are the only group of birds that do not use their own body heat to incubate their eggs.  The Maleo in particular will bury them in open sandy areas, volcanic soils, or beaches so the sun or geothermal energy can heat the eggs.  Some other Megapode species will use fermenting compost to incubate their eggs!  The male and female Maleo will take turns digging holes for the eggs.  After they cover the eggs, the parents have nothing more to do with them. 

The Maleo’s egg is about five times larger than a domestic chicken’s egg.  It contains a huge yolk that offers plenty of nourishment for the chick to grow enough to be fully independent upon hatching.  The young birds will have to dig their way up and out of the sand and run to the forest for cover.  Unearthing itself from the ground is probably the most difficult part of the bird’s life.  It can take several days and predators like monitor lizards, snakes, and feral cats and dogs may be near.  (This reminds me of a sea turtle hatchling’s journey!)  The Maleo hatchlings are fully capable of flight and must find food and defend themselves on their own. 

The Maleo is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  They have been protected by the Indonesian government since 1972.  Unsustainable harvesting of eggs combined with human disturbance of nesting grounds has led to the abandonment of many nesting areas and continues to be the major threat to those remaining.  Forest destruction and fragmentation threaten surviving populations as well.

In 2009, the U.S. based Wildlife Conservation Society and other local environmental groups purchased a 36-acre stretch of beach on Sulawesi for $12,500 to help preserve the Maleo.  The birds nesting there now have their own private beach!  The protected area has also raised awareness about the bird.

If you want to help endangered birds, the World Bird Sanctuary’s mission is to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.  You can help us fulfill our mission by simply visiting us and spreading what you’ve learned, becoming a Member or Friend, or adopting-a-bird and helping to feed that bird for a year!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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