Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Behaviour and Time-Activity Budgets of Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata in South Australia

Wesley W. Weathers and Roger S. Seymour

Emu 98(4) 288 - 296
Published: 1998


We used time-lapse photography to record the temporal pattern of mound-tending behaviour by Malleefowl breeding in lower Murray River mallee during January and March. We also derived time budgets based on 149 h of behavioural observations of two focal individuals. We found striking behavioural differences between these Malleefowl and those studied by Frith (1959, 1962a) near Griffith, New South Wales. In contrast to Frith’s birds, Murray River Malleefowl: (i) did not differ in the proportion of days that mounds were tended in January and March; (ii) were highly social not solitary; and (iii) shared mound-tending duties between males and females. On days when eggs were laid in January, both members of four pairs worked their mounds simultaneously 55 26 (s.d.) % of the time. In March after egg laying had ceased, both members of two observed pairs worked simultaneously 68 30% and 86 9% of the time. In contrast, Frith (1962a) seldom observed females participating in mound work. The four pairs that we filmed during January spent an average of 6.8 2.5 h opening and closing mounds on days that mounds were tended. This is equivalent to 46% of a single bird’s active day. During March the two pairs that we filmed spent an average of 7.2 0.6 h opening and closing mounds on days when mounds were tended, equivalent to 55% of a single bird’s active day. Male and female Malleefowl moved similar amounts of sand per scratch when tending their mounds (mean 78 13 g/scratch). We estimate that Malleefowl move a total of about 3.3 tonnes of sand to open and close the mound for egg laying or to check its temperature. We use our time-budget data and literature energetics values to evaluate Frith’s (1959) postulation that female Malleefowl are prevented from participating in mound work by the high cost of egg synthesis. Our calculations suggest that it makes relatively little energetic difference to females whether or not they tend mounds, which may explain why females tended mounds at our study site.


© Royal Australian Ornithologists Union 1998

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