Mallee-fowl flight

To: bird <>
Subject: Mallee-fowl flight
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 17:15:26 +1000
Recent postings concerning the extent to which mallee-fowl fly to escape
danger, caused me to re-read Harry Frith's fascinating and authoritative
account of the species ("The Mallee-Fowl", H.J. Frith, Angus & Robertson,

I knew he mentioned that displaying even a piece of fox skin caused
immediate flight, and eventually found it.  Page 66:

    "We then decided to show the birds a piece of fox skin.  It was only
about six inches square, but the mere sight of it was enough to cause
violent flight."

More generally (p. 65):

    "Although quite capable of flight, the mallee-fowl seldom takes wing.
If really hard-pressed by a dog, it tries to escape by running, but then
flies up to a bush and sits looking down, quite impregnable.  I once saw a
fox approach a working male, which merely flew up and sat on a branch about
eight feet from the ground until the fox had gone on.  I have seen these
birds fly far on only two occasions: once when I crawled from a hide very
carelessly and founds myself looking into the eye of a mallee-fowl four feet
away, and once before dawn when I drove around a corner fast and disturbed
one on the track.  On neither occasion did the bird pause, but took to the
air and flew over the top of the scrub and away with a very heavy, laborious

Frith found that foxes are not a serious threat to mallee-fowl.  They do
take some eggs, but in the heat of summer the sand of the mound is so dry
that it falls back in faster than the fox can dig it out so some eggs
survive.  The main threat to mallee-fowl - at least in those days - was
competition for food from sheep and rabbits at a critical time of the year.

BTW, I strongly recommend the book.  Harry Frith (later Chief of the
Division of Wildlife Research of CSIRO) spent some years studying these
birds, and their amazing behaviour.  Borrow, or buy second-hand, if you
possibly can.



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