BIRD: linking the biodiversity community
The Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) is a large, ground-dwelling bird of extraordinary grace and beauty. It is endemic to Australia and nearby islands. It was formerly known as the Bush Thick-knee.
Like most stone-curlews, it is mainly nocturnal and specialises in hunting small grassland animals: frogs, spiders, insects, molluscs, crustaceans, snakes, lizards and small mammals are all taken, mostly gleaned or probed from soft soil or rotting wood; also a few seeds or tubers, particularly in drought years. Birds usually forage individually or in pairs over a large home range, particularly on moonlit nights.
In Victoria, Bush Stone-curlews are rare and endangered. This is one of a small community surviving in the Birchip area. Note the superb camouflague. Parent and chick, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland.
Bush Stone-curlews in the wild at West Wimmera – a sight rarely seen by most people. These birds are part of a population now being conserved by the Kowree Farm Tree Group. Images from Ace Hardy.
During the day, Bush Stone-curlews tend to remain inactive, sheltering amongst tall grass or low shrubs and relying on their cryptic plumage to protect them from their only natural predators: raptors.
When disturbed, they freeze motionless, often in odd-looking postures. For visual predators like raptors (and humans), this works well, but it serves little purpose with introduced feral animals that hunt by scent: notably foxes.
Despite their ungainly appearance and habit of freezing motionless, they are sure-footed, fast and agile on the ground, and although they seldom fly during daylight hours, they are far from clumsy in the air; flight is rapid and direct on long, broad wings.
Bush Stone-curlews remain reasonably common in the north of Australia, but have become rare in the more fertile southern parts of Australia, particularly in Victoria where they are endangered.
In southwest Victoria, the Bush Stone-curlew is recorded from West Wimmera Shire, Hindmarsh Shire, Yarriambiack Shire and Horsham Rural City.
Most experts believe that fox predation is a prime factor in their decline, however there are areas where foxes are common yet the Bush Stone-curlew population remains healthy, so considerable uncertainty remains. Large-scale habitat destruction and fragmentation has undoubtedly been important.
Specific actions from the DSE Actions for Biodiversity Conservation database for the Wimmera
- Investigate the effects of fox predation on the survivorship and nesting success of Bush Stone-curlew populations, where exclusion fencing and/or effective fox control has been undertaken (Charles Sturt University)
- Investigate appropriate grazing strategies for different environments that conserve the Bush Stone-curlew's habitat but allow some grazing to reduce the threats of fire, weed invasion and creation of harbour for pests (Charles Sturt University).
- Encourage a post-graduate study into the species' demography to ascertain whether young birds are surviving their first year and establishing themselves in the population as breeding birds, or whether the population consists primarily of established pairs (Charles Sturt University).
Management on Parks Victoria managed land
- Identify Crown land reserves that are key sites for the Bush Stone-curlew.
- Manage biomass grass levels to keep to a suitably low level, through ecological grazing regimes where there are predator exclusion fences.
- Managed land review grazing licences on Crown land with populations of Bush Stone-curlews or with Bush Stone-curlew habitat to give priority to conservation
- Fence key sites to exclude predators, primarily Foxes but also Cats.
On freehold land in Wimmera CMA area
- Facilitate protection in strategic areas through local and bioregional planning and develop or amend planning scheme overlays and schedules; West Wimmera Shire, Hindmarsh Shire, Yarriambiack Shire and Horsham Rural City.
- Encourage landholders to increase the size of existing remnants, to establish new plantations of indigenous species of trees and shrubs, and to retain or establish buffer zones of unimproved, uncultivated pasture around woodland. Encourage landholders to leave fallen branches and debris on the ground beneath trees at key known or potential curlew habitat sites.
- Provide landholder and community extension services relating to the Bush Stone-curlew and other threatened woodland species in the woodlands region. Target golf courses within the species' range for extension programs including Land for Wildlife scheme, and provide advice on increasing the size and quality of habitat for the Bush Stone-curlew and other woodland wildlife.
There is a regional curlew working group (Dan Harley, DEH Mt Gambier).
For 2007 the group are looking at intensive monitoring of breeding pairs to determine their nesting success. Comparisons will be made between Bush Stone-curlew’s on Kangaroo Island and the mainland so that some insight into fox predation can be made. Five pairs around Horsham will be monitored by Jonathan Starks, Bird Monitoring Co-ordinator, Wimmera Catchment Management Authority.
Kowree Farm Tree Group recovery project
This project recognises the need to protect and restore the remaining population of Bush Stone-curlews in the Edenhope – Bringalbert South area. The project will:
- Promote conservation of the species.
- Be a catalyst for work to enhance the Bush Stone-curlew population.
- Develop a workable strategy for captive breeding and release.
- Engage and build local community capacity to conserve grassy woodland habitat.
- Gather information and support similar projects.
- Enhance co-operation between people in Victoria and South Australia.
- Identify and source sponsors to assist in funding the Bush Stone-curlew recovery project.
- Kowree Farm Tree Group Kowree Farm Tree Group Ph. 55851280
- Sue Close; Bush Stone-curlew project officer; clarkeslake<at>bigpond<dot>com
- Bush Stone-curlew research project, Charles Sturt University
- DSE, FFG Action Statement No.78 Bush Stone-curlew pdf (207KB)
- Beach Stone-curlew
- NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service Bush-stone Curlew Recovery Plan
This BIRD page is brought to you by the South West Integrated Flora & Fauna Team.
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INTEGRATED FLORA & FAUNA TEAM