Megapodius pritchardii 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Galliformes Megapodiidae

Scientific Name: Megapodius pritchardii Gray, 1864
Common Name(s):
English Tongan Scrubfowl, Nevafou Megapode, Niaufoou Scrubfowl, Polynesian Scrubfowl, Tongan Megapode
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
Identification information: 38 cm. Medium-sized, brown-and-grey megapode. Mostly brownish-grey, paler on head and neck, browner on back and wings, with short, rounded crest on nape. Feathers of face and throat sparse, allowing red skin to show through. Yellow bill. Yellow to light red legs and feet. Similar spp. Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis has bold bars and much longer bill. Immature Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio larger with white undertail-coverts. Feral chickens have prominent tails. Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis smaller and darker with red eyes and legs. Voice Three-part whistle kway-kwee-krrrr from male, usually uttered in duet with female krrrr. Both male and female can initiate the duet.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(v)+2ab(v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2017-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Dekker, R., Dutson, G., Fakaosi, D., Göth, A., Matevalea, C. & Watling, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Derhé, M., Keane, A., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Stattersfield, A., Westrip, J., Dutson, G., Wheatley, H.
This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small population and a very small range restricted to two tiny islands. Although the population on Fonualei, where it was recently introduced, is potentially increasing the population on Niuafo'ou is suspected to be undergoing a continuing decline, owing to egg harvesting and predation. The potential population size increase on Fonualei may mean that the species warrants downlisting in the near future.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Megapodius pritchardii is endemic to Tonga where although fossil evidence indicates it was once widespread, there is now only a remnant population on the island of Niuafo'ou and a re-introduced population on Fonualei. On Niuafo'ou it is concentrated around the inner slopes of the caldera (a large sunken water- and forest-filled crater formed after volcanic activity) and on two cat-free islets in the crater lake. In 1979, the population was estimated at 820 adults (Todd 1983) and, in 1991-1993, at 188-235 pairs occupying 641 ha of 719 ha of suitable habitat (Göth and Vogel 1995). This represents 52-65% of possible carrying capacity, assuming an average of 0.5 pairs per ha (Göth and Vogel 1995). Comparisons between individual sites and interviews with local people had strongly suggested an overall decline (Göth and Vogel 1995). Introductions to the islands of Late and Fonualei have been carried out. A 2003 survey on Fonualei found the species to be common, comprising an estimated 300-500 adult individuals (Watling 2004), but there is no evidence of its continued existence on Late (MEECCDMMIC 2014, R. W. R. J. Dekker in litt. 2003, R. Dekker in litt. 2004). A survey in September 2010 revealed that the population on Niuafo'ou has undergone a dramatic decline in the number of nests at all known nesting grounds, and is now confined to small areas within the caldera. Historically, 27 nests were known from 13 different sites across Niuafo'ou (Goeth unpublished data, in Tilmouth 2010), but during the September 2010 survey only 10 active nests at 7 sites were found (Lloyd et al. 2011). The 2010 survey also failed to uncover any new nesting grounds since the research of Göth and Vogel (1995, 1997).

Countries occurrence:
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:70Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:1800
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:2Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):50
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


In the most comprehensive and robust population study on Niuafo’ou, Göth & Vogel (1995) used playback to estimate the global population to be 188-235 pairs. More recent surveys have been only brief and used different methods but only located 28-53+ birds (Butler 2014). Göth & Vogel (1995) recorded 187+ active burrows, but only 33 were found in 2012 (MLECCNR 2012) and 44 in 2014 (Butler 2014). On Fonualei Island, Watling (2004) recorded a minimum of 38 individuals, and estimated a population of 300-500. In 2012, Butler (2013) observed that birds were also abundant at another site in the north of the island, and estimated a population of 600-1000, assuming that all apparently suitable habitat had been occupied. Watling (2004) and (Butler 2013) recorded no birds on Late. Thus the population size may be best placed in the range 250-999 mature individuals (G. Dutson in litt. 2016).

Trend Justification:  The overall population trend is tentatively considered to be a decline, as a result of reported declines on Niuafo'ou. However, the reintroduced population on uninhabited Fonualei may be considered to be increasing, and so the overall trend may warrant re-assessment in the future.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:250-999Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:2Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:1-89

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:It inhabits broadleaved forest ranging from secondary to mature (Göth and Vogel 1995), but needs areas with little ground cover where it can forage in leaf-litter and top soil; mainly for insects and worms, but also small reptiles, seeds and small fruit (Rinke et al. 1993). It uses hot volcanic ash to incubate its eggs, a habit which confines its nesting sites to areas of loose soil close to vents, either in forest or in open ash, or beaches of crater lakes (Todd 1983).

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):4
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): A study in 1993 revealed that all nesting sites on Niuafo'ou were harvested with at least 50% of all eggs laid being collected or destroyed (Göth and Vogel 1995). However, egg collecting appears to have decline markedly since 1993 (Lloyd 2011) and younger people are reported not interested in maintaining this tradition (MEECCDMMIC 2014). The reason for the recent decline in the number of nest sites is currently unknown. One possibility is that natural shifts in geothermal activity may have caused changes in soil temperature profiles that would inhibit successful incubation of eggs (Tilmouth 2010). Adults are also hunted on a small scale, and both adults and chicks are predated by feral cats and dogs, while pigs almost certainly destroy suitable foraging habitat for young birds (Lloyd 2011) and may compete for food (Göth and Vogel 1995). Fonualei is uninhabited so the threats of hunting and human disturbance are less immediate for the reintroduced population there (R. Dekker in litt. 2004).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected, although in practice there is no enforcement. From 1991 to 1993, 60 eggs were buried at volcanically heated sites on Late (Göth and Vogel 1995), and an additional 35 eggs and chicks were transferred to Fonualei (Rinke 1994), both uninhabited and rarely visited by humans. Breeding was successful on Fonualei and the population appears to be established (R. W. R. J. Dekker in litt. 2003, C. Matevalea verbally 1999, Watling 2004), but surveys suggest the translocation failed on Late (R. Dekker in litt. 2004, A. Göth in litt. 2004). A Conservation Strategy for the species was published in 2011 by the World Pheasant Association and the Tonga Community Development Trust (Lloyd et al. 2011), and an Action Plan produced in 2014 (MEECCDDMMIC 2014).

Conservation Actions Proposed
The Action Plan (MEECCDMMIC) includes proposals to: establish a sustainable egg harvesting regime on Niuafo’ou that enables the preservation of local culture and the future survival of the Malau (Tongan Scrubfowl); establish and implement a monitoring programme to periodically assess the Malau population on Niuafo’ou; provide the scientific knowledge required to supportthe population recovery and conservation of the Malau on Niuafo’ou; establish an appropriate legislative and policy context for megapode conservation; take steps to prevent invasive species that would threaten megapodes from reaching Fonualei; carry out periodic monitoring to check the status of the megapode population on Fonualei; develop a plan for a transfer to Late Island once the planned programme to eradicate Polynesian rats has been successful; investigate the feasibility of establishing a population on Tofua Island; increase community support for the conservation of the megapode on Niuafo’ou; develop educational resources; and establish a national repository for information on the Polynesian Megapode.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2017. Megapodius pritchardii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22678625A117562834. . Downloaded on 25 April 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided