Leipoa ocellata

View the threatened species profile (SPRAT) for the malleefowl

Malleefowl were first recorded in Australia around 1840, and were named in that same year by John Gould, the famous English ornithologist. Gould named the Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) (eye-marked egg-leaver) on account of the bird’s larger spots on the feather pattern, which he said resembled eyes, or ‘ocellae‘, and hence the species name of ocellata.

The Malleefowl is a large ground-dwelling bird that uses its strong feet to build large mounds in order to incubate its eggs.  The nests are composed of sand and leaf litter, which generates heat as it composts. The eggs are laid into the mound and covered over. The male malleefowl monitors the temperature of the mound, adding or removing material as necessary in order to maintain an optimum temperature for incubation.

Stages of Mound Building (Graeme Tonkin, 2017)

Threatened Species Status

The Malleefowl has rapidly declined over the last 50 years and is recognised as threatened in Australia and globally, with the following listing status:

  • Nationally under the EPBC Act (Vulnerable)
  • Western Australia (Vulnerable)
  • New South Wales (Endangered)
  • Northern Territory (Critically Endangered)
  • South Australia (Vulnerable)
  • Victoria (Threatened)
  • Globally, under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Vulnerable)


Once common and widespread across semi-arid and arid southern Australia, the Malleefowl’s original range extended throughout much of the southern half of the Australian mainland, from the west coast of Western Australia to the Great Dividing Range in the east, being widespread in every mainland state except Queensland. Malleefowl have declined significantly in the last century, with a 20 per cent decrease in abundance, and 50 per cent decrease in range.

Malleefowl differ from all other megapodes in that they are largely confined to the semi-arid to arid regions of southern Australia. Their preferred habitat is mallee shrubland but they also occur in other habitat types including eucalypt woodlands, native pine woodlands, acacia shrublands, broom bush vegetation and coastal heathlands.

Due to the composition of the mounds, a sandy substrate and availability of leaf litter is required for Malleefowl to breed. Areas of higher rainfall tend to support thicker vegetation for habitat and food purposes.

Frequently burnt areas are unsuitable, with areas that have remained unburnt for 40-60 years providing the most suitable habitat.


Malleefowl are generalist foragers and feed mainly on a diet of seeds, including cultivated grain, but also take other plant material like flowers, fruits of shrubs, foliage, herbs and also invertebrates found on the ground or in the leaf litter. They are opportunistic feeders and are known to modify their feeding habits according to the available food sources, and take advantage of the seasonal abundance of various foods.

Distribution Map

Map sourced from Department of Environment and Energy SPRAT Database. The distribution shown is generalised from the Departments Species of National Environmental Significance dataset. This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. Some species information is withheld in line with sensitive species polices. See map caveat for more information.