There are 19 to 22 species of megapodes alive today (Watling and Talbot-Kelly 2001, Perrins 2003). These birds are found in Australia, Asia and islands of the tropical Pacific. There are several species that are endemic to islands, although fossil evidence suggests that some of the restricted species were previously more widespread (Watling and Talbot-Kelly 2001). Unfortunately at least 30 species were living on islands in the tropical Pacific that have probably become extinct at the hands of arriving humans in the last few thousand years (Perrins 2003). There are 3 species in Australia; the famous Malleefowl inhabits the drier mallee country, but the other 2 species can be found in rainforest.
The megapodes are physically distinguished by their large feet and this gives them their scientific name of 'megapode', which means large foot. They use these big feet to claw and scratch in the forest floor for their invertebrate prey and other fallen food. Other than they look rather like chickens. However, they have an unusual nesting behaviour that sets them apart from all the other birds of the world.
Megapodes do not incubate their eggs by covering them with their body like most other birds. They kick together a mound of forest floor vegetation and let the heat from the resulting decomposition warm the eggs. Some species end up having the biggest nests of any birds in the world (Perrins et al 1996). They are also the quickest birds to fledge (Perrins et al 1996), for the precocious chicks are ready to run as soon as they have dug themselves out of the nest.