Bush Stone-Curlew

Bush Stone-Curlew standing on one leg on ground in front of a tree stump

Scientific Name: Burhinus grallarius

Size: 52 to 58 cm

What does it look and sound like?

The Bush Stone-curlew, or Bush Thick-knee (as it is often called) is a large, mainly nocturnal, ground-dwelling bird. It is mostly grey-brown above, streaked with black and rufous. It is whitish below with clear, vertical black streaks. The bill is small and black, and the eye is large and yellow, with a prominent white eyebrow. Both sexes are similar. The voice is a characteristic drawn-out, mournful “wer-loooo”, often heard at dusk and during the night.

Young Bush Stone-curlews are similar in appearance to the adults, but are paler, and a little browner in colour.

The Bush Stone-curlew is quite an unusual looking bird, and is unmistakeable with any other bird found in Australia. The related Beach Stone-curlew, Esacus neglectus, has a much larger bill and has little or no black streaking on the plumage.

Where is it found?

The range of the Bush Stone-curlew extends over the majority of Australia.

What are its habitats & habits?

The Bush Stone-Curlew was formerly quite common, but has declined in numbers due to loss of habitat and predation by foxes and feral cats. Today it is more abundant in the north, but can be found in open wooded country, scrubs, golf courses and even cemeteries. When sighted, a bird will normally crouch down or stand perfectly still and rely on the plumage pattern to disguise it. If approached, it will tend to walk away rather than fly (especially during the day).

 Bush Stone-curlews have a wide-ranging diet, but prefer to feed on insects, molluscs, small lizards, seeds and occasionally small mammals. Feeding takes place at night. During the breeding season, nesting birds will search for food in the vicinity of the nest site, while at other times, birds may travel large distances. All food is taken from the ground.

Bush Stone-curlews have a remarkable courtship dance. Individuals stand with their wings outstretched, their tail upright and their neck stretched slightly forward. The birds will stamp their feet up and down, like a soldier marking time. This courtship ritual is repeated for an hour or more at a time and is accompanied by loud and constant calling. The breeding season extends from July to January. The 1 to 3 eggs are laid in a shallow scrape in the ground and both adults share the incubation and care for the young. The chicks are dependent on their parents for 40 to 50 days.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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