Malleefowl. Photo – Nye Evans

Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) are large, ground-dwelling birds that rarely fly unless alarmed. They are approximately the size of a domestic chicken, with adults weighing between 1.5 and 2.5kg. Malleefowl create nests comprised of a large mound of soil covering a central core of leaf litter that can span up to 5m in diameter and 1m in height. They are one of three mound-building bird species in Australia, along with the orange-footed scrubfowl Megapodius reinwardt and the Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami.

The malleefowl is a threatened species under State and Commonwealth legislation. In Western Australia the species is listed as Vulnerable fauna under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Nationally it is also listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and internationally is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable.

Where malleefowl are found

map of malleefowl disribution across southern Australia
A map of the generalised historical range of malleefowl in Australia, with the red areas indicating the species’ current distribution (Parks and Wildlife, 2016)
 Click to enlarge image

Historically, malleefowl were found in the semi-arid mallee shrublands and woodlands across southern Australia in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Today, the species is still found in most of these areas but has had local extinctions in the NT, northern SA and far south-west WA, and its remaining range is highly fragmented due to extensive land clearing.

In WA, malleefowl are most commonly seen in reserves and private property within and around the Wheatbelt region. Recent surveys in the Goldfields have also noted that malleefowl continue to persist in this arid region. Conservation areas where they are known to occur include the areas surrounding Dryandra State Forest, Fitzgerald River National Park, Stirling Range National Park, Kalbarri National Park, Mount Manning – Helena and Aurora Ranges Conservation Park. They have also been reintroduced to Francois Peron National Park in Shark Bay.

Refer to Nature Map for further information regarding the distribution of this species.

How to spot a malleefowl

Malleefowl can be very hard to spot because they camouflage so well with their natural environment. They are characterised by the distinct grey, black and white banding across its body and wings. The breast and belly are cream-white, and its neck and head are greyish with a white stripe under the eye. A dark crest extends from the front of the crown to the nape and is raised when the bird is alarmed.

maleefowl nest
Photo – Amy Mutton DBCA

Malleefowl are typically quiet-moving and will often freeze or move quietly away when disturbed, but they are also known to burst up over trees with heavy flapping. The male malleefowl makes a deep, two-note bellowing or booming, or loud clucks. The female makes a high-pitched crowing, soft crooning or low grunting.

Malleefowl mounds can be a highly distinctive feature in a landscape, particularly if they have been recently used. A malleefowl pair will often use the same mound each breeding season rather than building a new one. The eggs, pale pink to pale brown in colour, are buried within the nest. The male tends to the mound, regulating the temperature inside the central pocket until the chicks hatch at 7 weeks. The chicks can fly and fend for themselves within several hours of digging to the surface unaided.

Report sightings of Malleefowl or mounds

If you think you have seen a malleefowl or a malleefowl mound, fill out a malleefowl report form (full or condensed version) and send it to the Species and Communities Branch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

docMalleefowl report form (full version)269.5 KB

docMalleefowl report form (condensed version)178 KB

Malleefowl information sheets

pdfFauna profiles: Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata765.37 KB

pdfFauna facts: Malleefowl174.95 KB

Main threats to the malleefowl

  • Habitat clearing for agriculture and mineral sand mining
  • Vulnerability due to fragmentation and isolation of remaining habitat
  • Competition for food resources with introduced herbivores (sheep, rabbits, cattle, goats) and kangaroos
  • Predation by introduced predators (foxes and feral cats)
  • Increased frequency of wildfires and prescribed burning

Recovery Plan

Benshemesh, J. (2007). National Recovery Plan for Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata. Adelaide, South Australia: Department for Environment and Heritage.
The National Recovery Plan outlines actions that are being implemented to improve the conservation status of malleefowl populations:

  • Protecting remaining malleefowl habitat through the establishment of conservation reserves and controlling vegetation clearing
  • Development of fire management plans
  • Fencing of native vegetation remnants
  • Revegetation to create links between patches of remnant habitat
  • Introduced herbivore and predator control
  • Monitoring programs and surveys of malleefowl and suitable habitat
  • Establishment of education programs and community groups to raise awareness and gather data

Recovery Projects

The National Malleefowl Recovery Team, made up of farmers, scientists, community groups and government agencies, implements actions outlined in the National Malleefowl Recovery Plan. They also manage the National Malleefowl Monitoring Database, which is a resource for mound monitoring data that has been annually collected by many individuals since the late 1980s. The Recovery Team is currently working with Melbourne University on the Malleefowl Adaptive Management Project.

Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre contributes to the conservation of malleefowl and malleefowl habitat through education and raising awareness, as well recently captive-raising malleefowl for education purposes.

Acknowledgement is given to the community groups that dedicate their time and energy to the conservation of the malleefowl, and gather information on malleefowl including sighting data and monitoring records. The former Nest Egg Foundation, previously known as the Malleefowl Preservation Group, collated sightings reported by volunteers and other community groups including North Central Malleefowl Preservation Group (NCMPG) and Friends of North Eastern Malleefowl (FONEM). These records form a significant part of the records available in Nature Map.

Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust: Malleefowl Project

The objective of the Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust (the Trust) is to conserve and increase knowledge of biodiversity in the Great Victoria Desert (GVD). They are developing a Bioregional Plan for the GVD bioregions, facilitating Indigenous involvement in land management and conservation activities, and facilitating research and conservation management for threatened species.
Further information about the Trust and its activities can be found on the Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust website.

The department has been working with the Trust on developing a research and management plan for the malleefowl. On 25 November 2015, the Trust hosted a workshop where experts from industry, consultants, government agencies and environmental not-for-profit groups presented their latest research and discussed the challenges and priorities for the species. The workshop identified the need to collate malleefowl records in the GVD from a wide range of sources, which the department is currently coordinating.

Read the department’s pdfsummary report on the Malleefowl Project7.47 MB.

Further Information