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Maleo

The rare Maleo of Indonesia may be facing extinction.

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Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) ENDANGERED
Kevin Schafer/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) is a rare Indonesian ground-nesting bird that is vulnerable to extinction. Although it resembles other species of fowl such as the African guinea, it is the only member of the genus Macrocephalon.

Appearance

The maleo is primarily black in color with a light rosy-colored to buff chest and belly. Its face is bare of feathers with yellow skin, reddish-brown eyes, and orange beak. The crown of its head rises into a black horn-like bony protrusion called a casque. Its legs and feet are grey-blue, and its four clawed toes are joined by webs of skin. The sexes are almost identical, although the female is generally slightly smaller and less colorful than the male.

Size

Height: 21 to 23 inches

Habitat

The maleo inhabits tropical lowland and hillside forests for most of the year. During nesting, however, it seeks out open, sandy areas, exposed volcanic soils, or beaches where the bare ground receives ample heat from sunlight or volcanic activity (solar or geothermal energy is required for incubation of the maleo's eggs).

Diet

The maleo has a relatively diverse diet that includes a variety of fruits, seeds, ants, termites, beetles, and other invertebrates.

Habits

According to BirdLife International, the maleo is usually silent but in the vicinity of nesting sites, it has been observed emitting an array of vocalizations, including a loud braying and, when in disputes, a duck-like quacking.

Reproduction

Maleo pairs are monogamous and remain close to one another throughout the year. They build nests in traditional group sites along island coasts that are used year after year. The female lays eggs in deep holes beneath the sand and then abandons the nest. Solar and volcanic heating perform incubation. Upon hatching, the chicks dig free of the sand and, able to fly immediately, retreat to the forest for cover. The hatchlings must forage on their own and learn to evade predators such as lizards, snakes, wild pigs, and domestic cats.

Geographic Range

The maleo is endemic to the Indonesian islands, Sulawesi and Buto.

Conservation Status

Endangered

Estimated Population

The maleo population is estimated to number 4,000 to 7,000 breeding pairs, which equals approximately 8,000 to 14,000 mature birds and 12,000 to 21,000 individuals in all.

Population Trend

Decreasing

Date Declared Endangered

2002

Causes of Population Decline

Maleo populations have dwindled due to a combination of different threats, including unsustainable harvesting of its eggs by locals for food, human disturbance of nesting grounds. A recent survey indicated that, of the 131 formerly known nesting grounds, 42 have been abandoned by maleos because of human disturbance. Other human activities such as logging, agriculture, and development have fragmented habitat, resulting in a disastrous disconnect between foraging and nesting grounds, resulting in site abandonment as well as increased predation risks for chicks. Invasive non-native vegetation is also encroaching on nesting areas, reducing the amount of suitable habitat for nesting burrows in open sand.

Conservation Efforts

The Wildlife Conservation Society has managed three inland hot-spring nesting grounds since 2001 at Tambun and Muara Pusian in the east of Bogani-Nani Wartabone National Park and Hugayono in the west. "Through our educational outreach programs, many nearby villagers have changed their attitude toward the birds and now support their protection," says the WCS. "We employ local guardians to protect these nesting sites and to educate visitors. We also work as conservation partners with the staff of Bogani-Nani Wartabone National Park. With their help, more than 4,000 maleo chicks have successfully hatched in the wild over the course of six years."

At the Bronx Zoo, WCS ornithologists helped a captive maleo family hatch three chicks in early 2013. The zoo is the only place that maleos live outside Indonesia.

How You Can Help

Donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society to help fund conservation efforts for maleos and other endangered animals.

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