Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable because it has undergone a rapid decline over the last three generations (50 years), based on a decline in its range owing to habitat clearance and fragmentation, and the compounding effects of introduced species. There has been some recovery in parts of the range, but some reserves may prove too small to support viable populations without intensive management.

Population justification
Garnett and Crowley (2000) estimated the total population at 100,000 mature individuals, roughly equating to 150,000 total individuals.

Trend justification
Data from protected areas in South Australia suggests that densities in this state have typically declined by 75% between 1989-1990 and 2005, with populations in New South Wales probably declining at about the same rate (Priddel et al. 2007). The overall population is thus suspected to be declining at a rate of 30-49% over 50 years (three generations). There is some evidence that over the last decade there has been a general increase across south-west New South Wales and Victoria and that numbers may have levelled out in South Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). However, given historic losses and the species’ long generation time it still qualifies for Vulnerable.

Distribution and population

Leipoa ocellata was formerly widespread in Australia, but its range appears to have contracted by about 50% during the 20th Century (Benshemesh 2000). It now occurs at scattered locations throughout southern Australian, with the largest contiguous expanse of habitat stretching east from the Western Australian wheatbelt (Garnett et al. 2011). Estimates in the 1980s suggested there were only 750 pairs in New South Wales and less than 1,000 pairs in Victoria. Numbers in South Australia are probably higher, perhaps several thousand pairs. However, data from protected areas suggests that densities in this state have typically declined by 75% since 1989-1990, with populations in New South Wales probably declining at about the same rate (Priddel et al. 2007). The species' population in Western Australia is believed to exceed the total in all other states, although records from this state generally represent less than 40% of all current and past records, despite efforts since the 1990s to encourage reports of sightings (J. Benshemesh in litt. 2007). By 1989, the range and abundance of this species was judged to have contracted dramatically in the arid areas of South and Western Australia (Robinson et al. 1990), but since then it has been found at numerous sites in these states (J. Benshemesh in litt. 2007). The species is judged to be in a continuing decline across its range (Priddel et al. 2007). It has not been recorded for several decades (and is probably extinct) in the Northern Territory (Benshemesh 2000). Despite the availability of survey data from sites across its range (J. Benshemesh in litt. 2007), an accurate recent estimate of the total population size is lacking. Garnett and Crowley (2000) estimated the population size at around 100,000 based on a density of 1–2 pairs per km2 over an AOO of 40,000 km2. There is some evidence that over the last decade there has been a general increase across south-west New South Wales and Victoria and that numbers may have levelled out in South Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). For instance, at 34 sites in Victoria, counts in 2010 were higher than they had been for 15 years (J. Benshemesh in litt. in Garnett et al. 2011).


It is found principally in semi-arid to arid shrubland and woodland dominated by mallee eucalypts Eucalyptus and/or wattles Acacia. It requires a sandy substrate and abundance of leaf-litter for breeding. It occurs in higher breeding densities on better soils with higher rainfall and prefers habitat that has been unburnt for several decades. It feeds opportunistically on locally or seasonally abundant food (Harlen & Priddel 1996), taking herbs, seeds, flowers, fruit, fungi, tubers and invertebrates, and also in stubble on adjoining agricultural land. Its nest is a mound, comprising an inner core of leaf-litter buried under a thick layer of sand. It may lay over 30 eggs in a season but, on average, each breeding pair produces 8-10 chicks each year (Frith 1959).


Clearance for agriculture has eliminated much habitat and some patches are affected by raised salinity levels, resulting in fragmented populations and a higher risk of localised extinction from starvation and bushfires (Frith 1962, Benshemesh 2000, S. Dennings in litt. 2004). The survival rate of young birds is low, mainly owing to predation by the introduced red fox Vulpes vulpes (Priddel et al. 2007). Small-scale experiments suggest that the level of predation is significant in both disturbed and relatively undisturbed habitats, but is higher in habitats affected by fire, introduced herbivores and plant harvesting, compared to protected areas, and decreases with increasing levels of fox control (Priddel et al. 2007). However, fox control measures can have little impact on reversing declines (Benshemesh et al. 2007). Feral cats Felis catus also prey on chicks (Wheeler & Priddel, 2009) and their numbers can increase after fox baiting (Short 2004). It is highly sensitive to grazing by introduced herbivores such as goats (S. Dennings in litt. 2004) and sheep (Frith 1962), large-scale wildfire (Benshemesh 1990), and may suffer predation by wild dogs (Frith 1962, Priddel and Wheeler 1997). Introduced weed species may also affect habitat quality (S. Dennings in litt. 2004). Other threats include infertility, possibly attributable to agricultural chemicals, and road-kills where birds feed on spilt roadside grain (Benshemesh 1999).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species's rapid decline has prompted the production of a national research plan (Orsini & Hall 1995) and recovery plan (Benshemesh 2007). The species is the focus of many non-government conservation groups (e.g. the Victorian Malleefowl Recovery Group and the Malleefowl Preservation Group) (Bode and Brennan 2011). National monitoring standards have been established and annual counts of active mounds are carried out at over 60 sites (Benshemesh 2004). Reserves have been declared, some on private lands, and some habitats have been fenced to exclude stock. Goats, rabbits and foxes have been partially controlled at some sites. Further habitat has been secured, protecting links between isolated populations, and wildfire response plans prepared. Community initiatives have been a major force in identifying and supporting research opportunities, and on-the-ground project implementation and management have been successful (S. Dennings in litt. 2004). Captive breeding is allowing population supplementation (G. Baker in litt. 2005).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Maintain or establish habitat corridors between fragments (Benshemesh 2000). Carry out further research into the threat of predation by foxes and the effectiveness of baiting (Benshemesh 2000, Priddel et al. 2007). Continue efforts to control foxes, goats and rabbits (Benshemesh 2000). Establish long term conservation covenant agreements to secure privately owned natural vegetation (Benshemesh 2000). Encourage adoption of suitable fire regimes (Benshemesh 2000). In reserves, close or fence off artificial water supplies and remove livestock (Benshemesh 2000). Foster communication with graziers and farmers about malleefowl requirements (Benshemesh 2000). Minimise the amount of grain spilt on roadsides that pass through suitable habitat and erect warning signs where fatalities are likely to occur (Garnett et al. 2011). Monitor populations in at least 10 sites in each state and assess the size and distribution of populations in fragments and remote regions (Benshemesh 2000). Carry out further research into the species's ecology and demography (Benshemesh 2000), especially the minimum population size for subpopulation persistence (Garnett et al. 2011). Conduct genetic analysis to detect areas of disjunction between subpopulations (Benshemesh 2000). Investigate the effect of agrochemicals on fertility (Benshemesh 2000).


60 cm. Very large, brown-and-grey megapode. Adults alike. Predominant colouring pale grey-brown, broad black marking down throat. Black, white and chestnut barred upperparts. Juvenile dull grey-brown, barred cream on upperparts. Voice Loud booming (only male), grunts, crooning and conversational notes.


Text account compilers
Garnett, S., Keane, A., McClellan, R., Shutes, S., Stattersfield, A., Taylor, J., Allinson, T, Symes, A.

Baker, G., Dennings, S., Priddel, D., Benshemesh, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Leipoa ocellata. Downloaded from on 10/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 10/07/2020.