Birds flock to asylum beach

A species of birds that are able to fly immediately after hatching from eggs buried beneath tropical sand have been given their own private beach in eastern Indonesia.

Maleos, chicken-sized birds with black foreheads, number from 5,000 to 10,000 in the wild and can only be found on Sulawesi island. They rely on sun-baked sands or volcanically heated soil to incubate their eggs. The US-based Wildlife Conservation Society teamed up with a local environmental group to purchase and protect a 36-acre stretch of beach in northern Sulawesi that contains 40 nests.

The environmental group paid £8,200 for the land on Sulawesi, one of Indonesia's 17,000 islands, to help preserve the threatened species.

"The protected area is already helping raise awareness about this bird," said John Tasirin, the Wildlife Conservation Society's programme co-ordinator on the island.

He said the project was especially significant because humans are the greatest threat to the maleo's survival. Villagers often dig up the eggs and harvest them for food, he said.

The maleo has a blackish back, pink stomach, yellow facial skin and red-orange beak. It buries its huge eggs in the sand or soil. The chicks hatch and climb from the ground, able to fly and fend for themselves.

"The population of maleos is decreasing quite steadily," said Martin Fowlie, from BirdLife International.

"So any protection is going to be a good thing."