Friday Fact: The Tough, Tough Love of the Mallee Mom


The mallee fowl of southern Australia is one hard working critter.  Both the hen and the cock spend most of their waking hours building and maintaining an enormous, ingenious incubator for their eggs.

Though they are only the size of small chickens, this intrepid couple digs a pit two to three feet deep and over ten feet in diameter! They fill the hole with leaves, twigs, and bark and wait for rain to soak the mulch, then cover it with sand.

This compost soon begins to decompose and heat up.  The cock actually uses his beak to check the temperature (mallee fowl are also called “thermometer birds”).  When it reaches the magic number of 91 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time for the hen to lay the first egg. mallee-fowl-nest.jpg Her mate digs into the mound, tenderly places the egg into it, and then rebuilds it around the egg.  It’s his job, also, to keep the temperature stable by a continuous process of uncovering, then covering the eggs according to the weather. 

And since the hen lays an egg a week, there is a seemingly never-ending process going on of eggs being laid and eggs hatching out and covering and uncovering and building and rebuilding.  Makes our eight-hour work days seem like a piece of cake, doesn’t it?

But here’s the kicker:  After all the tender loving care Mama and Daddy Mallee Fowl give their eggs, once the chicks hatch out, they are on their own. Completely. 

It’s an understatement to say that Baby Mallee Fowl has a difficult beginning.  First of all, after they hatch out, they must dig their own way to the surface of the incubator mound, usually through as much as three feet of soil, to reach open air.  Sometimes it takes as much as 15 hours!baby-mallee.jpg  Then, and I quote here from the book, “they stagger to the nearest bush to rest and take shelter.”

Poor little guys.  And after all this, you’d think Mama and Daddy would take them under their wings.  Nope.  Mama and Daddy completely ignore them.  I mean, these babies are kicked into the street!  They actually learn to fly in just 24 hours.

Yeah, can’t you just hear the Mama and Daddy saying, “Look, junior, we worked our beaks and claws to the bone making a home for you as a young egg and what thanks do we get? You just want more!  You’re outta here!”

Not surprisingly, only a very small percentage of the chicks survive.  But those that do survive their tough beginning have a long life of endless egg laying and egg tending and hole-digging and incubator building and incubator maintaining to look forward to. 


It’s a hard-knock life.


7 Responses to “Friday Fact: The Tough, Tough Love of the Mallee Mom”

  1. ronbailey Says:

    Man – it’s tough work being a parent!

  2. June Says:

    I’m guessing by the time mom and dad have done all that work, they figure they deserve retirement. I do feel badly for the little newborns though. Isn’t mother nature fascinating! Did you see the movie “March of the Penguins”? Now there’s a rough life too.

  3. luckypennies Says:

    That is a brilliant way to build a nest.

    I would like to take this time to thank you for being a loving, kind, and affectionate mother. 😀

  4. marion Says:

    Fascinating! Very comparable to motherhood in general, except we don’t boot them out of the nest at birth…

  5. ash Says:

    hi there,
    just checking out your great blog after the addition to BlogAshevile. please consider adding Ashvegas to your blog roll? thanks!

  6. jennifersaylor Says:

    Welcome to BlogAsheville! Hooray!

  7. ben (aka guitar maniac) Says:

    Ah, the cruelty of nature. I’m glad you fed me, sheltered me, nurtured me. In other words, thank you.

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