megapode (mĕgˈəpōdˌ) [key], common name for large, stout-bodied, long-tailed, terrestrial, nonmigratory birds comprising six genera in the family Megapodiidae. Members of the family have large, strong feet, hence the name megapode (from the Greek meaning "large foot"). Also called mound birds and incubator birds, they are remarkable in that they do not brood their eggs, but rather deposit them in mounds of earth and leaves and allow them to be incubated by the heat from the sun and from rotting vegetable material. The territory of each male contains a single mound, often the work of generations, reaching up to 15 ft (4.5 m) in height and 50 ft (15.2 m) in diameter. The male remains in the vicinity of the mound throughout the brood season, constantly checking and regulating the temperature by adding or removing material. The megapodes are commonly divided into three groups: the generally dullish-colored jungle fowl of the New Guinea rain forest, the blackish brush turkeys (e.g. Allectura lathami ) of coastal Australia, and the reddish-brown, white-spotted Mallee fowl ( Leipoa ocellata ) of Australia's semiarid scrub region. Many megapode species were early carried by canoe to the South Pacific. Omnivorous, their diet includes insects, small animals, fruit, and seeds. Egg-laying details are well known for the Mallee fowl, which over a period of time in the early spring, deposits from 5 to 35 eggs. The eggs begin to incubate immediately, the heat inside the mound being carefully watched and regulated by the parents. This is accomplished by adding sand to cover the eggs if there is too much heat from the sun, or scratching it away, thereby increasing the amount of heat reaching the eggs. The Mallee fowl usually builds a new mound every year, unlike other members of the family. Megapodes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Galliformes, family Megapodiidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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