Habitat: Rainforests with enclosed canopies in tropical North Queensland, wooded areas, swamps, gardens and monsoon forest areas

Distribution: Far north Northern Territory, top half of Cape York, coastal Far North Queensland and North Queensland down to Yeppoon

Conservation status: Listed as least concern under the Nature Conservation Act 1992

Main threats: Habitat loss, human developments, exploitation for food and introduced predators

About 

The orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) is one of the three Australian megapodes. Megapodes are unique as they are the only family in the bird world that do not build a nest and incubate their eggs. Instead, they build a large mound, heaped up with organic matter and heat generated from sun, to incubate their eggs. Sound familiar? Australian brush-turkeys are also a member of this family. 

Aptly named, the orange-footed scrubfowl can be easily recognised by its strong, orange legs and feet and by the distinctive crest at the back of its head. Another way to easily identify this bird is when it is flying as its flight is awkward, with legs dangling and trailing.

Less noisy than other scrubfowls, the territorial calls of the orange-footed scrubfowl can still be heard up to 6km away in good conditions, usually at night. The male and female perform duets, mainly during breeding season, but also year round. That said, they not only decorate the Daintree Rainforest, they provide the music as well. 

Fun fact: These duets signify the strong pair bond the orange-footed scrubfowls have. This is very remarkable because very few birds do this and those that do are usually songbirds.

Behaviours 

The orange-footed scrubfowl feeds on ground using its strong legs and large strong feet raking ground for mainly on seeds, fallen fruits, berries, roots and shoots of flowers. While foraging and examining the ground, it scratches in leaf litter leaving several piles of turned leaves behind it.

As other megapodes, they are very well adapted to the terrestrial life, both in feeding and breeding. They are often seen in pairs, holding and defending territories where their incubation mound is. When threatened or alarmed, they bobs their heads up and down. They can also react to potential danger by flying up into close trees.

During the breeding season, the female works hard to forage enough food to enable her to lay an egg that is more than 20% of her body mass. She lays an egg about 45cm deep in the mound, at intervals of 9-20 days. The incubation period can last up to 50-80 days.

When a chick is ready to hatch, it shreds the egg with its strong feet and sharp claws, which have small sheaths that protect the hatchling's face. These sheaths drop off after the hatching process. The chick will then rest in a small cavity in the mound. After 24-48 hours, it will emerge from the cavity and fly away to live a life completely independent of its parents.

Having a connected rainforest is important to the long-term survival of this species. You can help protect orange-footed scrubfowl habitat in the Daintree. Find out how.