Bush Stone-curlew

BIRD: linking the biodiversity community
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Bush Stone-curlew
Burhinus grallarius
Victoria: endangered
NSW: endangered
South Aust.: rare
Global: vulnerable

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.

Although the Bush Stone-curlew looks rather like a wader and is related to the oystercatchers, avocets and plovers, it is a dry-land predator: essentially a winged terrestrial carnivore.

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.

Fawn Curlew-341.jpg 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.

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Distribution of Bush Stone-Curlew. Victorian Biodiversity Atlas 2013 Bush Stone-curlew-with-chick.jpg Parent and chick, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland.

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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.

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Bush Stone-curlew released at Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre

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Save our Bush Stone-curlews Project - Mid Loddon Landcare Network & CMN

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Securing habitat for the Bush-Stone-curlew

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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 the mid-Loddon area of north central Victoria the population has dramatically declined over the past sixty years. The Bush Stone-curlew is considered Critically Endangered in this part of Victoria. Community monitoring has identified only six to eight birds are remaining. Without continued concerted community action this species could be lost forever in central Victoria.


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.

Management actions for conservation of the Bush Stone-curlew

Key Catchment Management Areas and Local Government Areas

Wimmera: Hindmarsh Shire, Horsham Rural City, West Wimmera Shire, Yarriambiack Shire.

Mallee: Mildura Rural City, Swan Hill Rural City.

North Central: Buloke Shire, Campaspe Shire, Gannawarra Shire, Greater Bendigo City, Loddon Shire.

Goulburn Broken: Benalla Rural City, Greater Shepparton City, Mitchell Shire, Murrindindi Shire, Strathbogie Shire, Swan Hill Rural City, Mount Alexander Shire.

North East: Indigo Shire, Towong Shire, Wangaratta Rural City, Wodonga City.

Planning: Facilitate the protection of known Bush Stone-Curlew populations through local and bioregional planning and develop or amend planning scheme overlays and schedules.

Predator control: encourage landholders in Bush Stone-curlew areas to initiate effective fox control measures.

Habitat retention/enhancement: encourage landholders to fence off woodland remnants that are in unimproved pasture and have an intact layer of native ground-cover plants.

Encourage landholders to leave fallen branches and debris on the ground beneath trees at key known or potential curlew habitat sites.

Education: Provide landholder and community extension services relating to the Bush Stone-curlew, particularly Golf Courses and Land for Wildlife properties. Provide advice on increasing the size and quality of habitat to landholders where Bush Stone-Curlew populations are known to exist.

Management of specific areas

Crown Land reserves: in areas that are known to be key sites for the Bush Stone-curlew there needs to be a reassessment of grazing licences to ensure Bush Stone-curlew habitat is conserved.

Puckapunyal Army Reserve and Mangalore Army Base these sites are managed by the Department of Defence. There is an on-going commitment to fox a control program combined with monitoring the population, nesting and survival of chicks.

Parks Victoria Where this species is known to exist in Parks there is an understanding that priority will be given to feral predator control programs at important sites within the Bush Stone-curlew's range.


  • The DEPI North West is investigating habitat requirements in relation to the ratio of coarse woody debris to open ground around successful nest sites and provide recommendations on appropriate grazing regimes.
  • In 2005/06 the Mallee CMA funded the Birchip Landcare group to undertake surveys in which new populations were found.
  • In 2007 investigations were undertaken to assess 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).

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

Mt Rothwell reintroduction project

Planning is underway to re-introduce Bush Stone Curlew's to Mt Rothwell. In 2013-2014 birds will be mainly sourced from Serendip and held in a safe area for breeding then subsequently released into the area behind predator roof fencing. Contact Annette Rypalski at Mt Rothwell for further information 0434295355.

Save our Bush Stone-curlews Project

This project is being run through the Mid-Loddon Sub-Catchment Management Group (Mid Loddon Landcare Network & CMN) with the Upper Spring Creek & West Marong Landcare Groups playing a vital role.

A Population Supplementation Proposal for the Bush Stone-curlew in Central Victoria was completed by David Baker-Gabb, Elanus Pty Ltd.

The group has also produced a Woodland Management Guide to assist landholders to understand and improve Woodland Ecosystems in the Mid Loddon. The guide includes a section detailing Curlew habitat requirements.

Five predator proof habitat sites ranging from 4 to 8 ha have been created near the Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve which is a 839ha public reserve 15km west of Bendigo. In 2014 a 12 ha predator proof site will be established within the reserve.

In 2013, a Bush Stone-curlew promotional and educational display pen was established at local Wildlife Rescue property. This will act as a focal point for community education and support for conservation activities. It will also be used as a captive breeding area for producing birds to be released into secure habitats.

In 2014 a 'soft release enclosure' will be installed at a covenanted 8 ha protected area site for birds to become acclimatise before being released into the local environment.

In Autumn 2014, thinning of 120 ha of the Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve will be undertaken to create a wider habitat area suitable for Bush Stone-curlews as well as other threatened species in the area. This work is implementing findings from the Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve Soil & Vegetation Plan, 2012.

The Save our Bush Stone-curlews Project is also involved with fox baiting, shooting and number of monitoring programs on private and public land. Bush Stone-curlew numbers have been monitored using the ‘call back’ method in the project area for the past 4 years and any future monitoring will be compared with these records. Monitoring during 2013 indicates the number of birds is still decreasing with less than 6 birds in the monitoring area.

The project also includes a pilot - Box Ironbark Educational Course for Primary School Students which will be run in 2014.

Contact for Save our Bush Stone-curlews Project, Judy Crocker, Facilitator Mid-Loddon Sub-Catchment Management Group & Mid Loddon CMN. 03 5435 3412

See also:

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