8 May 2018
Kayangel Atoll is set to become the first inhabited island in the Pacific nation of Palau to be cleared of rats. As well as a healthier ecosystem for fascinating Endangered birds, residents look forward to better livelihoods through increased crop yields.
By Jessica Law
The Micronesian Scrubfowl Megapodius laperouse is a genius at inventing ways to keep its eggs warm. Those on the Northern Mariana Islands burrow into volcanic cinder fields or use the geothermal heat beneath the ground to warm their unhatched young. Across the Palau archipelago, they bury their eggs in large mounds of sun-soaked sand in beachside forests. Ingeniously, they incorporate the warmth of rotting vegetation into the construction, adding more to the pile to increase the heat of the nest, or removing it if it becomes too hot.
And that’s not the only remarkable thing about their upbringing, because Micronesian Scrubfowl chicks are super-precocial – meaning they hatch in a more mature condition than almost any other bird species. They emerge as fully-feathered miniature adults, ready to run, pursue prey and, almost uniquely among birds, can even fly on their first day of hatching.
But sadly, it seems they have been no match for rats. Invasive rats have been attacking bird nests and, without the timely intervention of a new project*, the Micronesian Scrubfowl’s extraordinary natural behaviours could have been lost forever. The species is currently classed as Endangered - and these birds aren’t the only ones feeling the devastation.