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Bird in the Spotlight: Maleo

12 February, 2024

By Alexander Trifunovic

Maleo. Photo by Christoph Moning

The Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) is a large ground-dwelling bird found only on the island of Sulawesi and nearby Buton Island in Indonesia. Stocky birds with powerful legs and a large tail, Maleos have a whitish-pink belly, bare yellow-orange facial skin, and a large bony knob, or casque, on top of their heads. They forage for fallen fruit, seeds, and invertebrates in the understory of Indonesian lowland forests. Throughout the breeding season, Maleo pairs descend to communal nesting areas on beaches and sandy geothermal sites in the evening, where they dig a burrow about one meter deep, lay an egg, and return to the forest the next morning. Like other megapodes (Megapodiidae), Maleos are among very few birds in the world that do not incubate their eggs using body heat, but instead with environmental heat. They invest very little in parental care, instead allowing the hot, sandy soil surrounding their eggs to incubates it in the burrow for 79 days before chicks hatch and digs themselves to the surface. Maleos are listed as critically endangered, and their colonial breeding habits and specific site selection make them particularly vulnerable to agricultural development and overexploitation of eggs at nesting sites. However, their concentration in particular breeding sites has been used in inspiring community-based conservation efforts to protect their eggs and chicks and successfully increase Maleo populations.

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