Science

Rare Maleo Birds Born In Bronx Zoo

By Sean Kane , Mar 20, 2013 07:50 AM EDT
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Three rare maleo chicks were born at the Bronx Zoo Tuesday.

The maleo is a rare bird native only on the small Indonesian island Sulawesi. The bird is a member of the megapode family, medium-sized chicken-like birds found near Australia and New Guinea.

The three chicks were described by the Wildlife Conservation Society as “healthy and currently in an off-exhibit area of the zoo” in a news release. The Society manages the Bronx Zoo, including its “World of Birds” exhibit, where the young maleos will live.

Megapodes are also known for their strange, complex nesting behaviors. The birds built large thermal nest-mounds where they bury their eggs. At the bottom of some mounds, below the eggs, the birds pile rotting compost that heats and incubates their egg-bound young. They then cover the eggs and decaying vegetation in insulating sand. Others incubate their eggs using the sun’s heat, geothermal energy, or volcanic soil. Maleos are known for their reddish-orange beak, peach breasts and the bizarre black helmet “casque” that sits atop their head.

Maleo chicks are not fully grown when they emerge from their incubation mound, but are able to fly, regulate body temperature by themselves, and forage for food.

“Almost half of all megapode species are threatened with extinction,” Dr. Nancy Clum told the New York Times. Clum is curator of ornithology at the Bronx Zoo. “The work we do with maleos both at the zoo and in the field can provide a model for conservation of other megapode species.”

Maleo numbers are dropping because of invasive species and humans stealing their eggs. Currently, outside of Sulawesi, the only maleos on the planet reside at the Bronx Zoo, where the three chicks will join nine other Maleos.

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