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Tongan Scrubfowl Megapodius pritchardii
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This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small population restricted to two tiny islands. Although the population on Fonualei, where it was recently introduced, is likely to be stable the population on Niuafo'ou is suspected to be undergoing a continuing decline, owing to egg harvesting and predation (Baker et al. in press). If a population on the larger island of Late could also be established, then downlisting to Vulnerable may be warranted.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

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.

Distribution and population
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 (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).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 450-650 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 680-970 individuals in total (R. Dekker in litt. 2003).

Trend justification
Whilst the reintroduced population on uninhabited Fonualei is assumed to be stable, a decline has been reported on Niuafo'ou and so consequently the overall population is undergoing a moderate decline.

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).

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 so 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 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) which includes a series of community-based conservation initiatives.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue long-term monitoring of the nesting grounds on Niuafo'ou. Examine soil temperature and geothermal activity on Niuafo'ou. Protect the three crater lake islets as nature reserves, minimise disturbance and regularly survey for introduced predators. On Niuafo'ou, enforce the ban on hunting and egg-collecting or restrict it, preferably through a council of residents endowed with necessary powers. Assess the feasibility of eradicating feral cats and dogs from Niuafo'ou. Investigate obtaining Reserve status for Fonualei.

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.

Dekker, R. W. R. J.; Fuller, R. A.; Baker, G. C. 2000. Megapodes. Status survey and conservation action plan 2000-2004. IUCN and World Pheasant Association, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Göth, A. and Vogel, U. 1997. Egg laying and incubation of the Polynesian megapode Megapodius pritchardii. In: K.C.R. Howman (ed.), Ann. Rev.. World Pheasant Association 1996/97, Reading.

Göth, A.; Vogel, U. 1995. Status of the Polynesian Megapode Megapodius prithchardii on Niufo'ou (Tonga). Bird Conservation International 5: 117-129.

Lloyd, H. 2011. Polynesian megapode surveys on Niuafo'ou, Tonga. World Pheasant Association News: 10.

Lloyd, H., Torres-Sovero, C. and Faka'osi, S. 2011. Conservation Strategy for the Polynesian Megapode Megapodius pritchardii on Niuafo'ou, Tonga. World Pheasant Association, Newcastle, UK and Tonga Community Development Trust, Tongatapu, Tonga.

Rinke, D. 1994. The Malau on Fonualei in Northern Tonga. World Pheasant Association News 44: 7-8.

Rinke, D. R.; Soakai, L. H.; Usback, A. 1993. Koe Malau Life. Brehm Fund for International Conservation, Bonn.

SPREP. 1999. Proceedings of the Polynesian Avifauna Conservation Workshop held in Rarotonga, 26-30 April 1999.

Tilmouth, A. 2011. Saving the Polynesian Megapode: a clash between culture and conservation. London. Available at: (Accessed: 12 September).

Todd, D. 1983. Pritchard's Megapode on Niuafo'ou Island, Kingdom of Tonga. World Pheasant Association Journal: 69-68.

Watling, D. 2004. No sign of translocated Polynesian Megapodes on Late Island, Kingdom of Tonga. Megapode Newsletter 18: 4.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Derhé, M., Keane, A., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Stattersfield, A.

Dekker, R., Göth, A., Matevalea, C., Watling, D., Fakaosi, D.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Megapodius pritchardii. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

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.

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Polynesian megapode (Megapodius pritchardii) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Megapodiidae (Megapodes)
Species name author Gray, 1864
Population size 450-650 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 70 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species