Species profile

Bush Stone-curlew

Bush Stone-curlew

Range and abundance

The Bush Stone-curlew has previously been recorded in all but the most arid parts of mainland Australia. The species remains common in northern Australia and on many offshore islands (notably Kangaroo Island (SA) and Magnetic Island (QLD), even within towns. In southern Australia the species’ range has declined significantly since European Settlement and today it is scarce or largely absent in many parts of its former range south and east of the Great Dividing Range. The total Australian population has been estimated at 10,000–15,000 individuals.


The Bush Stone-curlew is a charismatic bird with a distinctive, wailing call, which has been variously described as ‘melancholy’, ‘mournful’, ‘frightening’ and ‘eerie’. The species is easily recognisable; it stands at 510–590 mm tall and has long legs, large eyes, a short dark bill and a slender body with cryptically-coloured plumage of mottled brown, white and grey. There are no obvious differences in appearance between the sexes. 


The Bush Stone-curlew most commonly inhabits lightly timbered open forest and woodland. Key habitat components include fallen dead timber, leaf litter and an open ground layer. Individual curlews may live for 20–30 years and most birds form a monogamous pair and maintain a year-round, long-term bond. The species is an opportunistic forager that mostly consumes ground-dwelling invertebrates, but it will also feed on seeds, small reptiles and rodents. Females usually lay one or two clutches during the breeding season (July to January) consisting of two mottled eggs laid directly on the ground and incubated without the use of nest structures.


The main threats to the Bush Stone-curlew are loss and modification of habitat for agriculture and urban development, along with predation by foxes. The removal of fallen timber for firewood collection is a particular concern as it is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the curlews’ camouflage strategy which it uses to avoid predators.

What is AWC doing?

AWC protects numerous remnant populations of the Bush Stone-curlew in northern Australia. In addition, during 2013 a reintroduction program was implemented in an attempt to re-establish the species in parts of its former range in southern Australia. Twenty captive-bred birds were released at Scotia (NSW) and a further 12 at Yookamurra (SA). These birds were fitted with radio-transmitters and their movements are being monitored regularly by AWC ecologists.

Did you know:

The characteristic camouflage behaviour of the curlew is to flatten itself against the ground with neck outstretched and eye partially closed; remaining motionless in the hope of evading detection.  So effective is this strategy that many people mistake the birds for a piece of fallen timber.