Before the arrival of Europeans, Malleefowl were common across the interior of Australia. Today they are classified as 'endangered'. While predation by the introduced red fox and habitat destruction are factors in its demise, climate change is playing a major role. The Malleefowl builds a mound of leaf litter and other organic matter, and after rain mixes the material to encourage decomposition, and digs a chamber for the eggs. The female lays around fifteen eggs, one at a time over a period of weeks. The eggs are covered with sandy soil. The birds then monitor the temperature of the mound, digging away the sand if the rotting vegetation is getting too hot, or adding more if the soil temperature drops. Rain is a necessary trigger for egg laying, so our current drought has had a major impact.
Western Plains Zoo has been actively involved in the Malleefowl recovery program since 1990, when it assisted with incubation and rearing of eggs from wild Malleefowl mounds, to produce chicks for release. After this initial release, some birds were kept to form the first captive breeding pairs, which would in turn produce chicks for future releases. Chicks hatched and reared at Western Plains are released regularly with over 500 chicks released to date. Many of the birds have been released at Yathong Nature Reserve, a huge 107,241 hectare reserve south of Cobar which features extensive areas of mallee.
When the chicks hatch they dig their way out of the mound, a process that can take 10 to 12 hours. They are on their own from the moment they hatch, fending for themselves. The parent birds are not involved in caring for their young, and as the chicks hatch one at a time, they have no contact with their siblings either.