Maleo Macrocephalon maleo


Justification of Red List Category
This distinctive megapode is classified as Endangered because it has undergone a very rapid decline, which is projected to continue based on levels of exploitation and declines in the extent and quality of habitat, combined with the fact that it has a small population, which continues to experience severe fragmentation.

Population justification
The total population is estimated to number 4,000-7,000 breeding pairs, equivalent to 8,000-14,000 mature individuals or 12,000-21,000 individuals in total.

Trend justification
This species is suspected to be declining very rapidly owing to a combination of threats, the most serious being the unsustainable harvesting of eggs and the loss and fragmentation of its forest habitat.

Distribution and population

Macrocephalon maleo is endemic to Sulawesi and Buton Islands, Indonesia (Dekker et al. 2000, BirdLife International 2001). Of the 142 known nesting grounds, 48 have been abandoned, 51 are severely threatened, 32 are threatened, 7 are of unknown status, and only 4 are not yet threatened (Baker 2002). The global population has been estimated to be in the region of 4,000-7,000 breeding pairs, and declining rapidly, in places by up to 90% since 1950 (Butchart and Baker 2000). Available evidence indicates that as the number of eggs laid at a communal nesting site declines, so too does the efficacy of communal nesting as a predator satiation strategy, hence the viability of many smaller populations is becoming increasingly threatened (Gorog et al. 2005).


It inhabits lowland and hill rainforest, up to at least 1,065 m, and man-modified habitats when travelling to coastal nesting grounds. It nests communally, which is hypothesised to be an evolutionary strategy for satiating natural egg predators (Gorog et al. 2005), at traditional sites, typically sandy beaches, lakeshores and riverbanks. Females lay 8-12 eggs in pits, heated by solar and/or geothermal radiation, over a 2-3 month period, peaking markedly at some localities during the regionally variable dry season. The eggs (averaging 16% of adult female body weight) comprise 61-64% yolk, and when laid are left to incubate (for 2-3 months) and hatch with no further parental support. The young take up to c.2 days to tunnel to the surface after hatching, emerging ready to fly.


Unsustainable harvesting of eggs combined with human disturbance of nesting grounds has caused the abandonment of many nesting colonies (particularly coastal) and remains the major threat to those remaining. Forest destruction and fragmentation increasingly threaten surviving populations; there is a strong relationship between connectivity of nesting grounds and forests, with an increase in abandonment associated with decreased connectivity (Gorog et al. 2005). In 2000, and again in 2004, forest fires impacted the Tangkoko DuaSaudara Nature Reserve, damaging 180 ha and 130 ha respectively, and resulted in areas of dense regrowth impenetrable to Maleo (van As 2007). Logging and agricultural, urban and road developments have isolated virtually all coastal nesting grounds from non-breeding habitats, significantly elevating the risk of mortality and natural predation of chicks. In the Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and surrounding area habitats continue to be degraded, the major threats being rattan and timber collection, conversion of forest to agricultural land, gold-mining (M. Argeloo in litt. 2005), hunting of adult birds for sport (G. Baker in litt. 2004), and the spread of invasive vegetation. An increase in the human population has exacerbated many of the threatening processes above and leads to the introduction of invasive predators such as dogs and rats. Nest site abandonment is highest in coastal and non-protected areas: this, the level of awareness raised about this species and the wealth of information now available suggest there is considerable scope for protecting Maleo.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. It has been protected under Indonesian law since 1972. The species was included in a status survey and 2000-2004 conservation action plan for Megapodes. Nesting ground surveys were made in North, Central and South East Sulawesi between 1990 and 2000. Over 50% of known nesting grounds (chiefly inland sites) are located inside protected areas, the most important being Lore Lindu National Park, Morowali Nature Reserve, and Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park. Effective conservation programmes have been implemented at the Tambun and Hungayono nesting grounds, where hatchery projects and improved guard patrolling have led to greatly increased hatching rates, at Taima (Libuun) near Tompotika in Central Sulawesi, and at the Pakuli/Saluki complex at Lore Lindu  and the Tanjung Matop near Toli-toli (D. Neville in litt. 2004, M. Summers in litt. 2006). At the nesting ground in Libuun, Tompotika, Central Sulawesi, the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) has partnered with the village of Taima since 2006 to provide year-round protection for Maleos (M. Summers in litt. 2012). The project employs teams of permanent local staff and villagers to guard the nesting ground and record data. AlTo also provides community benefits to the village for its participation in the project, as well as an ongoing Outreach and Awareness campaign promoting Maleo conservation in schools and villages throughout the Tompotika area and in the city of Luwuk, where it has received government endorsement. Since the project began in 2006, all poaching has essentially ended at Libuun, and the number of adult Maleos returning to the nesting ground to lay has tripled; often during the high season more than 30 birds are present at a time. Another project in the Tangkoko-DuaSaudara Nature Reserve is run by the Tangkoko Ecotourism Guides Club, and involves the clearing of dense secondary growth, replanting of trees, and the re-establishment and monitoring of a viable nesting population (van As 2007). In May 2007, work by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park on the management of three nesting grounds saw the facilitated hatching and release of their 4,000th chick (Tasirin 2007), while the release of the 5,000th was expected in 2009 (WCS 2009). In 2009, it was reported that a 14-ha stretch of beach had been purchased by Pelestari Alam Liar dan Satwa (PALS: Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation), with the assistance of the Wildlife Conservation Society and external donors, to protect a nesting area for the species (WCS 2009, Wildlife Extra 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Strengthen the capacity of conservation agencies and government to prevent illegal activities in formally protected areas and establish new management plans to realistically address conservation issues in national parks and nature reserves. Prioritise the protection of active and threatened nesting grounds over translocation of eggs to recolonise abandoned nesting grounds, which has been successfully implemented at some sites and should remain a tool for the future. Keep nesting grounds free from predators, human disturbance and invasive vegetation, and reforest adjacent areas (Gorog et al. 2005). Extend protected area status to forest corridors connecting nesting grounds and non-breeding areas. Expand management activities in protected areas, particularly scrub clearance at nesting sites. Initiate Maleo-based conservation activities in Paluki and Saluki, Central Sulawesi. Renew community-based protection initiatives. Monitor the effectiveness of hatcheries and other conservation measures and optimize egg protection strategies. Monitor daily numbers of birds laying at as many colonies as possible. Conduct more intensive research to establish its distribution and the extent of gene flow between nesting grounds. Conduct a Sulawesi-wide awareness-raising campaign to discourage Maleo egg consumption and use the species as a flagship for forest conservation.


55-60 cm. Unmistakable, very large, black-and-white megapode with medium-length tail. Prominent, bony, dark casque (horny cephalon on crown), stout, pale bill and bare, yellowish facial skin. White underparts variably sullied pink on breast and belly, thighs black. Voice Several different vocalisations, including extraordinary loud braying, a series of disyllabic rolls, and, in disputes, a duck-like quacking. Hints Usually shy and often silent, except around nesting grounds, where occasionally crepuscular or nocturnal.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Keane, A., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N. & Symes, A.

Argeloo, M., Baker, G., Neville, D., Tasirin, J. & Summers, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Macrocephalon maleo. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/05/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/05/2020.