Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

In Search of the Enigmatic Moluccan Scrubfowl

Moluccan Scrubfowl - Picture by Merilyn Browne

One of the memorable experiences from our recent trip to Indonesia was connecting with the enigmatic Moluccan Scrubfowl on the island of Haruku, off the coast of Ambon. Haruku is one of only two major breeding grounds remaining for this endangered species. The birds land at night in sandy clearings in the rainforest, not far from the beach. They dig a hole 1 metre-deep and deposit a single egg before flying off back into the forest. Sometimes the birds fly considerable distances to reach their nesting places, even crossing water.

On the boat

We had already had a long day, being up at 4am for an early morning birding session in the Kai islands, then catching a flight to Ambon before unpacking at our hotel and making the long drive to the harbour, where we boarded our chartered speedboat after dark. After tiptoeing our way around an army of cockroaches aboard the boat, we were off across the waters to Haruku Island.

Moluccan Scrubfowl
After a wet and slightly tricky landing, we were met by some locals with torches and led through the outskirts of the village of Keiololo to a strip of forest. A short distance further brought us to a wide, sandy clearing. As a full moon shone through the tree tops, we watched the shadows in anticipation. After perhaps a 2-minute wait, a shape appeared abruptly on the sand 10 or so metres away. My torch revealed an impressive bird, relatively brightly patterned for the usually drab megapodes. It didn't hang around. A second bird flew in after another 20 minutes or so, this one about 50 metres away.

Most megapodes build large mounds of sand or vegetation in which to lay eggs, carefully adding to or removing the material so eggs are incubated at the appropriate temperature. The young hatch and dig their way to the surface.The fully fledged chicks that emerge from the mound receive no assistance from their parents; they are expected to manage on their own. The Moluccan Scrubfowl is unusual in not building a mound. Its egg weighs about 100g, or 20 per cent of the weight of the adult.

Haruku Island
On Haruku, the scrubfowl population is carefully managed by the people of Keilolo. Villagers are allowed to collect a stipulated quantity of the much sought-after scrubfowl eggs each year. The right to harvest the eggs is determined by auction, with the village chief issuing a licence to the successful applicant.

1 comment:

  1. This has been a most informative series of posts ... thank you :)