Family

CHAPTER

phylum class subclass order monotypic order suborder family

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Moundbuilders have big, strong legs and feet. The short bill curves downward, and most moundbuilders look like other gal-liforms (members of the order Galliformes) in body shape and dull coloring. There are a few species that have patterned plumage (feathers), but in these birds, the patterning helps conceal them from predators.

Moundbuilders weigh between 1.1 and 5.5 pounds (0.5 to 2.5 kilograms) and measure 11 to 27 inches (28 to 70 centimeters) in length.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Primarily in Australia and New Guinea as well as on islands throughout the southeastern Pacific and Southeast Asia.

HABITAT

Moundbuilders must live in regions where climate conditions encourage the decomposition of organic matter, and so they prefer tropical and subtropical rainforests. Only the malleefowl and the Australian brush-turkey can be found in habitats outside the rainforest.

DIET

Most of what moundbuilders eat comes from the forest floor. These birds feed on fallen fruits, seeds, ants, scorpions, and even small snakes. Although most of this food gets eaten as the birds dig through forest leaf-litter, they do seek out specific types of food, fruit being one of these.

For the first time ever, the threatened Vanuatu (van-wah-TOO) megapode was captured on film by Dr. Mark O'Brien in December 2003. O'Brien, a researcher from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, had visited the Pacific nation of Vanuatu so that he could work with the chief in an effort to determine a way that islanders could still harvest eggs, but in a sustainable way.

According to a press release posted on Birdlife.org, only 2,500 pairs of Vanuatu megapodes remain, and only on the 108

islands of Vanuatu. As a result of O'Brien's visit, the chief initiated a conservation program that included a moratorium (temporary halt) on egg collection that lasted four months. Anyone disobeying the rule was fined $135 or the equivalent in pigs or cattle. And because the species is rarer in the southeastern part of the nation, those communities agreed to a five-year ban on egg collection.

O'Brien acknowledged that another visit to Vanuatu is necessary to learn the effects of the moratorium.

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