The Incubator Bird

Many people assume that birds are pretty simple forms of life. We see them hopping across our yards and sitting on our power lines without realizing how diverse they are and what amazing abilities they have. When you travel, you find that birds in other parts of the world are very different than birds we see at home, and one of the most amazing of these is Australia's malleefowl.

Malleefowl are turkey sized ground dwelling birds that live in southern Australia. To hatch their eggs, they build incubating mounds that can be 35 feet across and four feet high. The males are the primary architects of these mounds, designed to keep the eggs at a temperature that vary from 91 to 93 degrees. To do this, they start construction in the fall and work for four months. The bird fills an inner chamber with organic material including leaves, twigs, and bark. After the winter rains he covers the mound with soil. The organic material rots and generates heat to incubate the eggs.

Bird holding an egg In the spring the female will lay as many as 35 eggs in the mound over a period of four months. The male will visit the mound regularly and adjust the mound so the eggs stay at the same temperature. In this part of Australia the summer temperatures can hit 115 degrees and the cooler temperatures can approach 40 degrees. The male malleefowl regulates things by opening the mound or covering it with more dirt. Several tons of dirt will be moved by the bird in a year. The chicks take about nine weeks to hatch and then they dig upward through the mound on their own. When the chick emerges from the mound, it runs into the brush and fends for itself from that point on. The parents do not feed the chicks--ever. Researchers have seen a male uncover a chick while adjusting the pile, and not give it a second look. They are programmed to keep the delicate temperature of the mound right for its survival, but not to care for it in any way once it has hatched. Since the eggs were laid over a period of four months the chicks hatch one at a time. They will not be wiped out by one predator, and they are buried too deep for predators to get at them.

The malleefowl is ideally suited for the original environment of southern Australia. They are programmed to do what they do to produce offspring, and have unique abilities that fit where they live. The more we study the creatures of this planet the more we see that we can truly know God exists through the things He has made (Romans 1:19-22).

 --Reference: National Wildlife, July/August,1999, pages 20-25.

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