If you hear an eerie cry during the night, it’s likely to be a curlew calling up the storm. Curlews are nocturnal and most active from dusk to dawn; they are especially active and vocal on moonlight nights or when rain is coming. The Bush Stone-Curlew was found extensively throughout Australia except for desert regions, but is now dwindling in numbers and classified as rare to totally extinct in closely settled parts of Australia. In some States the curlew is listed as vulnerable or threatened. Ground-feeding, ground-nesting larger woodland birds are the most endangered birds in Australia, and the curlew fits neatly into this description.
Australia is home to two species of curlew: the Bush Stone-Curlew which is also known as Bush Thick-Knee and the Beach Stone-Curlew. Although the Bush Stone-curlew looks rather like a wader and is related to the oystercatchers, avocets and plovers, it is a dry-land creature. Both species are camouflage experts; even when you know they are there you are likely to miss seeing them because they freeze when threatened. The first lesson of curlew is to make yourself invisible when you see a predator.
As well as being difficult to see, mature curlews are impossible to sex; the most reliable method is a blood test so the second lesson of curlew is not to be too restrictive in your gender classification. Don’t worry so much about “pink jobs” or “blue jobs”; if there is work to be done and you are capable, then do it.
Curlews are ground-dwellers; sedentary creatures who can happily spend their life of thirty or so years in one area. They will fly only when frightened, to find a better feeding ground or to find a partner. They are shy birds, who move slowly and watchfully, then will run a short distance, stop abruptly, peer around, then repeat the process. They rest standing on one leg and eat what is easily available on the surface: insects, crustaceans, small frogs and reptiles, seeds and small fruit so the third lesson from curlew is about finding a comfortable spot to call home, then settling down with the partner of your choice.
Curlew’s best-known story is of a young mother named Curlew, married to an old man chosen by her parents. Bored with her life, she fell in love with a younger man and took every opportunity to be with him. She told the other women she needed to tend her child to avoid joining their food foraging group, hid her sleeping child in the shade of a bush, then sneaked away to meet her lover. Unfortunately as the hours passed the sun moved, the child was no longer safe in the shade but exposed to the sun. The baby screamed for its mother but she did not hear. Even though the nocturnal curlew also screamed during the day to warn the young mother she did not heed the bird’s warning either. By the time she returned to her baby it was badly sunburned and very distressed, and it was the woman’s turn to scream with remorse. Now Curlew the woman cries during the night, mourning her lack of care for the child. If curlew makes herself known to you during daylight hours either by screaming or by flying at you so that you notice her, her most likely message is a warning to look after your baby or something or someone of equal importance to you.