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Nicobar Megapode Megapodius nicobariensis

This species has been retained as Vulnerable despite undergoing a dramatic decline following the 2004 tsunami. The results of on-going monitoring suggest that the population is stable, although there is increased pressure on littoral forests, and this may lead to a category change in the future.

Taxonomic source(s)
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

43 cm. Large, rufous-brown megapode with short crest. Adult has bare, reddish facial skin, lacking in juvenile. Greenish-brown to red legs and feet. Similar spp. None within range. Possibly confusable, if seen poorly, with mainly terrestrial Nicobar Pigeon Caloenas nicobarica, which has darker, metallic plumage and short, white tail. Philippine Scrubfowl M. cumingii (extralimital) is similar in appearance but darker, and greyer below. Voice Male gives loud territorial calls, rising in pitch and grading into a staccato series. Feeding birds give noisy, cackling contact calls. Hints Partly nocturnal, found solitary or in pairs.

Distribution and population
Megapodius nicobariensis is endemic to the Nicobar Islands, India (BirdLife International 2001), where it occurs as two races on 14 islands: M. n. abbotti on Great Nicobar, Little Nicobar, Kondul, Menchal, Treis, Meroe, and M. n. nicobariensis on Camorta, Trinkat, Nancowry, Katchall, Teressa, Bompoka and Tillanchong islands (Sivakumar 2007), with the apparent sighting of a pair on Cubra Island in May 2009, and records from Pilo Milo in May 2011 (A. P. Zaibin in litt. 2012). It is thought to be extinct on Pilo Milo. Historical reports from Little Andaman, India, and the Cocos Islands, Myanmar, lack substantiating evidence. In 1994, there were estimated to be 2,318-4,056 breeding pairs, but following the tsunami in December 2004 populations disappeared completely from two islands, Trax and Megapode Island, and the total number of breeding pairs was estimated at 395-790 following surveys in 2006, with the majority on Great Nicobar (203-406) and Little Nicobar (82-164) (Sivakumar 2010). Preliminary assessments since 2006 indicate that although a major interruption to breeding occurred in 2005 and 2006, a natural recovery was underway and breeding success had improved (R. Sankaran in litt. 2008); however, some threats, such as the encroachment of plantations, appear to have worsened since the tsunami (Sivakumar 2010). Surveys conducted in 2009-2011 have resulted in a population estimate of 376-752 breeding pairs, suggesting that the population has remained stable since 2006 (A. P. Zaibin in litt. 2012).

Population justification
The population fell to 788 pairs in 2006 following the 2004 tsunami, however, numbers since appeared to be recovering. Surveys conducted in 2009-2011 have resulted in an estimate of 376-752 breeding pairs, suggesting that the population has been stable since 2006 (A. P. Zaibin in litt. 2012), and indicating that there are c.750-1,500 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Although survey results from 2006, following the 2004 tsunami, suggest that its numbers had declined by 75-81% on the 1994 population estimate (Sivakumar 2007, 2010), preliminary reports suggested that a natural recovery was underway (R. Sankaran in litt. 2008), despite the worsening of some threats (Sivakumar 2010), and surveys carried out in 2009-2011 suggest that the population has remained stable (A. P Zaibin in litt. 2012).

It inhabits forests and secondary growth, with the greatest concentrations in coastal forests. It incubates its eggs in nest-mounds close to the shore which are built from sand, loam and humus. The species is primarily monogamous, although extra-pair copulations have been observed. In a pair, both the male and female contribute to the mound maintenance. Unpaired mature males build and defend mounds to attract a partner (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2004). Several pairs often share nest-mounds, with a strong hierarchy apparent during egg-laying. Larger mounds tend to have more stable incubation temperatures and the shortest incubation period (c.72 days). Annual hatching success fluctuates widely (e.g. 87% in 1996 cf. 37% in 1997).

The key threat is the loss of coastal forest through conversion to agriculture (coconut, banana and cashew plantations and rice-paddy cultivation), road development projects, which threaten to fragment habitat blocks, particularly on Great Nicobar, and settlement expansion. The devastating tsunami of 26th December 2004 is thought to have affected c.40% of its breeding habitat (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2005), and the aftermath of the tsunami has exacerbated the existing pressures on the species and its habitat, with displaced people raising plantation crops to generate revenue and building houses in littoral forests (Sivakumar 2007, 2010). Megapode Island has been completely submerged by the tsunami and no longer exists (M. Chandi per A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Large areas of primary and secondary forest have been cleared to make way for coconut and rubber plantations, and habitat has also been lost to the development of airstrips and defence installations (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Surveys in 2006 found that, following the tsunami, the distribution of nest-mounds had shifted closer to shores, potentially increasing the risk posed by abnormally high tides and perhaps negatively affecting incubation temperature (Sivakumar 2010). Snaring and shooting for food, and egg-collecting are localised problems, but are also likely to have increased in frequency following the 2004 tsunami (Sivakumar 2010). Hunting by visitors from the mainland has decreased due to strict law enforcement; however, the increasing ownership of air guns amongst the indigenous populations has exacerbated this threat (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). The species is likely to be impacted by sand mining in coastal areas, as driven by the demand for cement for construction, and which is difficult to control resulting in some illicit collection (Islam and Rahmani 2010). Invasive species including cats, dogs and domestic fowl are a potential threat (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2004). The provision of domestic fowl by the government could bring the threat of avian cholera and other diseases (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). The proposal to develop Great Nicobar as a free-trade port, including a dry dock and re-fueling terminal at the mouth of the Galathea river (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012), is a potentially major threat, but appears unlikely to be realised in the near future (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2005).

Conservation Actions Underway
It is listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). It occurs in Campbell Bay and Galathea National Parks on Great Nicobar (a Biosphere Reserve), and three wildlife reserves on uninhabited islands. Designation of most of the Nicobars as tribal areas legally prohibits commercial exploitation of natural resources and settlement or ownership of land by non-tribal peoples. Detailed status surveys and ecological studies are on-going (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2005). Permanent monitoring plots have been established to determine population trends (Sivakumar 2007). Surveys of this species, and other taxa, were conducted between January 2009 and August 2011 as part of the project 'Monitoring post-tsunami coastal ecosystem recovery in the Nicobar Islands' (A. P. Zaibin in litt. 2012). The species is one of 15 threatened species prioritised by the Government of India for the preparation of a ‘Species Recovery Plan’ under its ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’ programme (K. Sivakumar in litt. 2012). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor inland and coastal populations following the 2004 tsunami; with the aim of reassessing the medium-term impacts after 10 years. Monitor the regeneration of littoral forests. Initiate a conservation awareness programme to reduce hunting. Empower indigenous people to follow alternative livelihood options such as fishing, handicrafts etc. Eradicate and manage invasive species. Include coastal forests free from human settlement in the existing Protected Areas networks and strictly implement the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Continue to lobby for expansion of the existing protected areas system to encompass wider tracts of coastal forest on Great Nicobar, the Nancowry island group and Little Nicobar. Carry out habitat restoration work on the west coast of Great Nicobar (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Review the immunity of indigenous people to hunting regulations, given their changing lifestyles (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Conduct surveys for the species in interior forests (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Carry out further studies on its breeding biology and habitat use (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Study the impacts of changes in land-use patterns and the lifestyles of indigenous peoples (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Formulate a management plan (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Following losses to the tsunami, restore the infrastructure of the state forest department (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012).

Baker, G.C.; Dekker, R.W. R.J.; Keane, A.M. in press. Megapodes: status survey and conservation action plan 2005-2009. IUCN and World Pheasant Association, Gland, Switzerland & Cambridge, UK.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Islam, M. Z., Rahmani, A. R. 2010. Saving globally threatened and endemic birds using the IBAs approach in Andaman and Nicobar islands . Recent Trends in Biodiversity of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, pp. 423-434. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai.

Sivakumar, K. 2007. The Nicobar Megapode: status, ecology and conservation;: aftermath tsunami.

Sivakumar, K. 2010. Impact of the 2004 tsunami on the Vulnerable Nicobar Megapode Megapodius nicobariensis. Oryx 44(1): 71-78.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Keane, A., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Taylor, J., Tobias, J.

Dekker, R., Rahmani, A., Sankaran, R., Sivakumar, K., Zaibin, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Megapodius nicobariensis. Downloaded from on 21/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/04/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Megapodiidae (Megapodes)
Species name author Blyth, 1846
Population size 750-1500 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,600 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species