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mound nests
Mound Nests

One of the strangest nesting habits is that followed by the Megapodes. On Saro in the Solomon Islands, come nesting time the already mated female Scrub Hens leave the forest where they have lived all year and come down to the beach to look for an area of sand known as a geu. In a geu the sand is heated form below by geothermal energy as well as from above by the sun. Into this sand the females dig a hole about 60 cm deep, and after testing the temperature of the sun with special heat sensors on their tongues (about 33 C is best), they lay their eggs and fill the hole in. The females then return to the forest and expend no further effort on their offspring's behalf.

This and similar systems by other Megapodes such as the use of hot springs on Celebes and rotting tree stumps on other Solomon Islands involve no building effort at all. However, these facilities are not always available and in Australia and Papua New Guinea various Megapodes use the heat generated by composting organic matter to hatch their eggs. These incubator composts can be huge and require a large input of effort on the bird's behalf.

Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) have the most complex nesting habits of all the Megapodes. A male will commence constructing an incubation mound months before the breeding season. He first scrapes a hole in the ground (Megapodes = big feed) about 0.5 m deep. On top of this he piles all the vegetation he can find, as well as nearby topsoil. The resulting mound will be about 5 m across and 1m high. Similar, but slightly less complex nesting rituals are shown by the Scrubfowl whose ancient nests may be 12 m across and 5 m high. Also similar are Brush Turkeys (Alectura lathami), whose nests are similar in size to a Malleefowl. Less evolved species such as the Moluccan Megapode (Eulipoa wallacei), simply dig a hole in the soil, lay the eggs and then cover them up. No further control is exercised.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003