I recently posted some pictures of Orange Footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) scratching around our backyard and on their huge nest mound in a small park next door. A couple of days ago I caught fleeting glimpses of a young scrub fowl, recently emerged from the mound. Wisely they are born with a reflex to flee and fly whenever disturbed. Twice I saw it and twice it disappeared with a clatter of wings. But today Jan went down to the old chook house (Australian for chicken run) that has been empty and overgrown with vines for some years and found this little scrub fowl had found the door open and wandered in. I came and grabbed a couple of quick pics from some distance and got out before he/she got into a panic. The female lays a single egg that is about 20% of her bodyweight in a hole about 45cm deep. Some 50-80 days later the heat from decomposing vegetation has completed the incubation process and the youngster is ready for action. When the chick is ready to hatch it breaks open the egg with its strong feet. It rests in the small cavity in the ground for a day or two and then tunnels its way upward. When it emerges it immediately takes flight. It gets no parental guidance or assistance from mum or dad, who have invested all their energies in working on the mound and the large egg. The mother bird will be busy getting ready to lay another egg, which happens right through the year at intervals of 9-20 days.

The orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) has become a happy camper in the suburbs of Darwin, driving many a mulch-loving gardener to distraction. The Latin name Megapodius refers of course to “big feet” and those long robust claws and powerful orange legs can move mulch and soil at an amazing rate. Tidy minded gardeners wake up to find their carefully curated mulch strewn everywhere. Over our back fence is a house-block that is effectively a reserve for Megapodius and a mound about 12m in diameter and a bit over a meter high is a nest mound shared by a number of Megapodius couples. They excavate a hole, lay 6-12 eggs and back fill the hole with soil and leaves. The job of incubation is done by heat generated as the vegetation breaks down into compost. The chicks are hatched tough and fully-fledged they excavate their way out, with a little help from parents. The scrub fowl have a very loud call — a number of raucus monotonal shrieks followed by a phrase which our neighbourhood agrees says clearly “fucken hell!”. We’ve listened to them in other places around Darwin, and elsewhere the call couldn’t be construed as “fucken hell”. I’m not sure why they are so cheesed off around our way. They seem to have it pretty good really. They’re found in lowland rainforests and dry jungles of parts of the Kimberleys, the Top End and North Queensland. One of my photos shows a big foot digging down on top of the mound just this week.