The world’s only arid-zone mound-building bird – the malleefowl – is in need of a few friends, such as the community of Ongerup, in south-west Western Australia.

Story By Ken Eastwood

When wood carver John Davis was commissioned to sculpt a malleefowl for the Gnowangerup council offices, in south-west Western Australia, he thought he’d pop into the local bushland to see one of the birds. After all, the shire’s name means “place of the malleefowl”, and the council’s emblem is a malleefowl, so he thought they should be abundant.
It was a shock to John, and to others in the area, that he couldn’t find one. The chook-like ground bird had virtually disappeared. Foxes, cats, clearing, changed fire regimes and an old legacy of shooting had all but polished them off. Realising that the malleefowl was in jeopardy across its range (it is classified at both state and national levels as vulnerable), John helped found the Australia-wide Malleefowl Protection Group.
That was more than 20 years ago. Now, at Ongerup, an aviary and vibrant visitor’s centre called the Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre, is both educating visitors about this stoic Aussie bird, and conserving habitat and contributing to its conservation.
“There are 22 mound-building birds in the world, and 21 live in the tropics,” says Vicky Bilney, the centre’s manager and biologist. “The malleefowl is the only one that lives in semi-arid areas.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #94

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2014