Curlew Watch

As far back as 1992 concern was being expressed about the plight of the Bush Curlew (Bush Thick knee) through the pages of the Wildlife Australia Magazine. A Friends group was set up in Victoria with the aim of bringing to public attention the declining numbers of both the Bush Curlew (Burhinus grallarius) and the lesser known Beach Curlew (Esacus neglectus). Both these birds are extremely vulnerable to a variety of impacts because of their particular life style and responses to predators. Both species of the birds live in the Bayside (Redland and Wynnum/Manly) area of southeast Queensland.

The entire world population of Bush curlews (Burhinus grallarius) occurs solely in Australia. Unfortunately there has been a significant reduction in population density in southern parts of Australia. In Victoria it is listed as threatened and in New South Wales as endangered.

Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Bayside Branch (WPSQBB) is conducting an ongoing survey of Curlew populations.

Because the Bush Curlew and the Beach Curlew are disappearing in many parts of Australia, it is important to collect information in southeast Queensland to establish their status here. Volunteer curlew surveyors are playing a vital role in ensuring this information is collected and collated into a useable form. New volunteer curlew observers are always welcome.


Often these birds are heard rather than seen so records of hearing the birds could be as important as records of sightings. They call at night when they are most active perusing their food or a mate. Their call sounds like a loud, haunting, mournful wail.

Curlews rarely fly spending their time on the ground. Their eggs are laid directly on the ground in the case of the Bush Curlew and on a sandy beach in the case of the Beach Curlew. The Curlew is a large bird standing 55 cm tall, which relies on camouflage for protection, which unfortunately, is now seldom sufficient. Eggs, chicks and adult birds are all vulnerable to

"A big thanks must go to the volunteers who have supplied us with valuable information about the curlew. Their observations and past research have been compiled together to provide the contents of this information sheet. This sheet provides general information but future ones will provide greater detail. We hope you enjoy reading this information sheet and perhaps consider, or continue, to participate in this survey or some other worthwhile conservation initiative."

Curlews - What Are They?

Scientific name: Burhinus grallarius
Common names: Bush Thick-knee, Southern Stone Curlew or Bush Curlew


About 54 to 59 cm in length, an 82 to 105 cm wingspan. Weight, male 670 g and female 625 g, although some birds caught for banding on Coochiemudlo have weighed 800-1000g. Long legs, cryptic plumage, forehead buff, white chin and throat, crown nape and hind neck, grey and finely streaked blackish, large yellow eyes, thin white eye ring, black eye stripe through neck, upper parts have black streaking over a grey - brown, while under parts are buff - white. Bill black. Legs vary from cream to olive buff.
There is a grey and rufous morph. The grey morph is described above. The rufous morph is found in Northern Australia. The rufous morph has boldly streaked rufous brown upper parts. Neck browner, forehead rufous brown, breasts, flanks and upper belly rufous brown.


A ground dwelling bird liking lightly timbered open forests and woodland. Records show swampy paddocks, mangroves and salt marshes heavily timbered areas but may roost at fringes. Some typical areas in the Redlands Shire were it is found are the Bay islands and southern areas of the Shire. Recreational areas, farmland and institutional grounds; particularly if there is adjacent or on site wooded areas. Can be found near and around households and are quite at home in urban backyards and footpaths especially on the bay islands. They are quite at home in urban backyards and footpaths, especially on the bay islands. Some have become quite accustomed to human presence and in some instances take advantage of hand feeding or unguarded pet food.

Distribution and numbers

Victoria Point, Redland Bay, Alexandra Hills, Macleay Island, Coochiemudloo Island, North Stradbroke Island, Peel Island, Russel Island, Karragarra Island, Thornlands, Ormiston and Cleveland.


They are breeding readily in the Shire, usually from June to December. Birds are known to nest in Victoria Point, Redland Bay, Macleay Island, North Stradbroke Island, Alexandra Hills, Coochiemudloo Island and Cleveland.
Nests are on the ground. They are nothing more than a piece of ground that has had the leaf litter scraped away. Sometimes on bare ground or amongst stones, often under trees. Eggs are rounded oval to elongate oval, with colour varying with surrounds. The clutch size is usually two. Interval between broods has been estimated to be between 63 - 65 days and also 103 - 134 days.

Food sources

Mainly insects, molluscs, spiders, frogs and lizards. We have observations of dog and cat food being exploited, as have human handouts.


Loss of habitat and natural food sources, unsupervised domestic pets, foxes, lawn mowers, unwary walkers in parks. What can you do? If you see a cat or dog nearby, warn the owner or if no owner, chase the animal away. If the nest is in a park or well walked area, try to protect the nest site with a brightly coloured tape and advise the wildlife officers at Redland City Council.
Do not use fencing or other materials to 'wall ' off or protect nesting adults as this will simply lead to abandonment. Curlews prefer an open area with high visibility for predator awareness.

Social organisation and behaviour

Found singly, pairs, families (1 - 3 young), or in small flocks. Usually shy but there is plenty of evidence from observers of birds becoming quite tame around human habitation. Feeding is generally done alone except when one adult is feeding with young. They are monogamous and are together for the year and probably pair for life. Both birds are involved in incubation, defence and raising of young. Female will generally incubate during the day, while the male does the night shift. Breeding birds feed near nest but some recorded observations have shown off duty birds to stay 0.4 - 1.6 km away. Movement away maybe related to depleted food sources.


Sedentary when breeding, however, there may be local movement after breeding. Birds banded as part of an ongoing study on Coochiemudlo have shown birds dispersing between Coochiemudlo, mainland sites and also other islands. This suggests that the birds from different locations and islands around Moreton Bay may mix at least a little and information is currently being gathered to better understand their movement patterns. There are records of birds congregating into small flocks after breeding. These flocks may roam over many km , and we do have reliable observations from the Redlands highlighting this behaviour still continues.


They make eerie wailing calls at night. This is often heard when two or more birds come together at territory boundaries. Birds have been heard to make whistling sounds when seen in small flocks. Other calls include shrieks, growls, gurgles, clucks and chuckles. Whistles have been heard when summoning chicks, while soft gurgle sounds have been noted to have been made by male in warning a female of an approaching observer. Some birds have made a hissing sound when humans have approached too closely.

Social Behaviour

One of the obvious characteristics of the Bush Curlew is that they are dedicated parents. Both male and female share in the duties of raising young, taking turns to incubate, feed and vigorously defend nest and young. In one case adult Curlews chased off a large python that came too close with apparently little concern for their own safety.
Reports also indicate Bush Curlew parents have almost a human like attachment to their young. Take this record for instance:
On the hatching of the first egg the parent Curlews were observed to do a dance around the chick, calling loudly and with other local Curlews joining in, as though to announce tile arrival of their chick to the world.
This may all seem strange but these dancing antics are well recorded. Whistling concerts, dances and what is described as 'glee parties,' are believed by researchers to be associated with Courtship and pair formation. An interesting observation was made of 12 birds standing in a circle bobbing and bowing; one crouched and called, then half rose and ran off in a crouched stance; others repeated sequence and followed first bird in single file; birds then regrouped with much displaying of wings and calling, performance repeated three times in 10 minutes.
Another trait of the Curlew is the creation of small flocks during winter. With the reduction of Curlew numbers such small flocks appear not to be common anymore. However, a recent survey on Lamb Island revealed such an event is still occurring and this may be a good indication of a healthy population on that Island.
While adults have their traits the young have their own. One typical habit is the anti-predator response. We have many a photograph of a downy young laying prostrate on the ground with legs tucked under its body and head and neck stretched out. The time to adopt this posture seems to be dictated by the parents. With reports indicating the hiss from a parent bird send young birds into this instant camouflage position.
Feeding habits are also interesting. With both adult birds either feeding young birds directly or dropping food in front of the chick.
It has been found that breeding pairs that have lost their young will adopt an orphan chick if it is of a similar age..
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the Curlew is its ability to tolerate us humans. Many a volunteer have talked about Curlews in their backyard, coexisting happily, occasionally stealing the dog food or venturing into the kitchen. With nearby bush and freedom from cats, it appears only too easy to satisfy their needs.
One of the most delightful stories we have heard is of a pair of Curlews that were welcome regular occupants of a safe residential backyard that disappeared for some time. The owners grew concerned, having thought they lost their wildlife friends. However, they awoke one morning lo see the proud parents parading their young in the backyard and later bringing them to the back door. They later led them off into nearby bushland and have occasionally returned lo visit. It almost seems like thank you.

Curlews - Distribution

Distributed widely throughout north and northeast Australia. Is absent to scattered in the interior of Australia.
In Queensland it is found mainly in the east and central regions including offshore islands. In the Northern Territory, it is widespread north of 160 degrees south and offshore islands and in NSW it is generally found along the western slopes and plains and Riverina but rare east of the Dividing range. In Victoria it is found mainly in the north with scattered records along the Murray Valley. In South Australia it is found mainly in the South - particularly Kangaroo island. Western Australia generally the South West and Pilbara and Kimberley region and generally absent from the western desert and Eucla region. There are records made in Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.

Movement during breeding

Curlews are sedentary and territorial when breeding. There is some local movement during breeding due to food depletion or changes made to habitat.

Movement after breeding

When the birds are not breeding some may form flocks, which are believed to move locally. In the Northern Territory, the flocks are thought to roam over 100 km^2. There are unsupported claims that the Curlews on Kangaroo Island move 15 - 30 km to the mainland every night.
In the Redlands we have yet to establish if the Curlews have any pattern of movement during the winter / non-breeding months.
John Coleman's project that involves banding of Coochiemudlo Island Curlews has shown that they do move between the islands and the mainland. Coochie Curlews have been sighted at Victoria Point, and Cleveland curlews were found on the islands.

Studying Curlews

The Queensland Wader Study Group and Redland City Council are studying the curlews on Coohiemudlo and attaching green bands to their legs to identify and monitor individuals. Birds banded on Coochiemudlo have been seen on Macleay Island, on the Mainland at Cleveland and Victoria Point.Another bird banded at Cleveland was found on Macleay Island suggesting that the birds, at least in the South of the bay mix.
As well as banding birds, individual birds caught are weighed and measured to assess their condition and individuals are monitored to record their movements and breeding.
Any observations on either leg flagged birds seen in your local area, or any information on breeding, time of breeding, number of young hatched, number of young reared to fledging, would be very useful to the study. The submission forms on this site allow you to send this information in if you would like to contribute.
If you see a bird with a green leg flag please try to read the two character code on the flag and report it but even just a sighting of the flag provides us with some information.

Distribution in the Redland City

Curlews have been recorded in most areas of the Shire but survey data shows they are not prevalent or are absent in the Thorneside, Birkdale and Wellington Point areas.
Curlews can still be found in Alexandra Hills, Capalaba, Cleveland and Thornlands. However, road kills are being reported in Capalaba and Alexandra Hills, and with continuing development in the Ney Road area we can expect this trend to continue.
Cleveland, Thornlands and Mt Cotton appear to support a number of Curlews, particularly in parks and private properties with or adjacent to nearby bush.
Victoria Point and Redland Bay seems to support the bulk of the mainland Curlew population, with a number of key points proving popular with the Curlews. These are the All Saints Church, the park near the Air Sea Rescue facilities, Pt O'Halloran and the eastern esplanades at Victoria Point. While Moogarrupum Creek corridor appears to support a number of Curlews.
However, the best survev results come from the Bay Islands, particularly Coochiemudlo, North Stradbroke, Peel Island and Macleay Island, Lamb and Karragarra Island data are still coming in but these also are apparently popular sites for Curlews.
Note: recent surveys by WPSQ BaySide Branch have found several Beach Curlews on Moreton Island and individual sightings on Macleay Island and Pt Talburpan.

Curlews - Threats

The greatest threats to the Curlews survival include vehicles (road kills) and domestic pets / feral animals. Ticks have been recorded in taking at least one young individual. Loss of bushland habitat, open areas and small lot housing are also likely to be having a major impact and the continued residential development on the Bay Islands represents a major long term threat to the overall Curlew population in the Redlands region.

Curlews - How to Care for Them

Care of bush curlews is still an inexact science. If a stone curlew is in a situation where it can be readily caught for treatment it is in dire need. It must be remembered that as with any wild bird, Curlews can and will try to defend themselves from rescuers.
If a bird is to be taking in for care you must try and reduce stress where ever possible. This is best done by initially placing the bird in a dark quiet corner away form human noises and influences. Keep the bird covered until veterinary attention is given.
Always make sure that you give the vet or the carer the address where the curlew was found so that it can be returned to its home.
Fortunately Bush-stone Curlews are a relatively easy bird to care for. They have a broad diet, which can be easily substituted if required in the captive environment. They feed primarily on insects and the young feed for themselves. If the orphans are only days old it may be necessary to supplement food supply to ensure adequate amounts are obtained. However make sure the chick is an orphan. Many curlew chicks are 'rescued' unnecessarily. The parents will ake them back and in the case of both parents being killed chicks will sometimes be adopted by other breeding curlews.
Artificial feeding can consist of mixture of roo meat mixed with a commercially available dietary supplement particularly calcium and vitamins. Advise on mixture rates and amounts will be available on the product packaging. If there is insufficient nutrients particularly calcium in the diet problems can develop with the bird's legs, feet and beak. They are also susceptible to over dosing with calcium. Stone Curlews can also be feed a variety of invertebrates including meal worms, crickets and other insects. Mice, lizards, frogs and other vertebrate fauna are also readily consumed.
Care must be take to not over feed juvenile birds. Overfeeding can cause them to grow too quickly, which will cause particular problems with the legs. Birds may ask for more food, however it is best to keep to recommended amounts.
They should not be cared for in close proximity to dogs or cats as they may loose their natural fear of these predators.
Birds should be encouraged to get their own food as much as possible. It may be necessary to take the young 'out for a walk' for several hours a day to allow them to feed while you protect them from predators. Small chicks are likely to be targets for dogs, cats, foxes, birds of prey, kookaburras and possibly magpies.
Once the birds are feeding themselves slowly withdraw human food to encourage them to seek their own.
However the best thing to do with an orphan chick is to get it back to its parents. Many curlew chicks are mistakenly rescued by well meaning residents who are unaware that they are a ground bird. If the parents can't be found try to see if it will be adopted by other adults in the same area.


Curlews - Reporting Sightings

Specialist Sighting Forms and Habitat Survey Forms are available for use when reporting sightings. The forms will ensure that all information is recorded in a uniform manner, which can then be entered into the database maintained by the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Bayside Branch (WPSQBB).
When completing Sighting Forms for an extended period at the same site it is not be necessary to complete a Habitat Survey form for each occasion unless there has been some change to that habitat.
If it were possible for observers to do so, WPSQBB would be grateful for photographs of the birds that you survey.
If you are interested in assisting with the Curlew Survey, please use the Curlew Sighting Form and Habitat Form and e-mail them to Bayside Branch, or drop a note to WPSQ Bayside Branch, PO Box 427, Capalaba 4157.

Online data


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