The Southern Stone Curlew
(Dacelo novaeguineae)
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The Southern Stone Curlew (also known as the Bush Thick knee) are a fascinating bird if you don’t mind their mournful wailing during the night (especially if disturbed).   It can be quite spooky on a still moonlit night but a beautiful sound nevertheless.

They are native to pretty much most of inland Australia and tend to be lighter in colour and smaller in size the further north you go.   They are birds that prefer to be on the ground searching for insects, grubs, skinks, small mammals and the like but are strong flyers should the need arise.  They will stalk their prey and then stab with their powerful beak when close enough to effect a kill.  On one occasion I saw one of my birds catch a mouse by the tip of its tail and then run around showing off his new found meal.   He then made the mistake of putting it back onto the ground with the intention of stabbing it.   ‘The meal’ immediately gets up and runs away at great speed, leaving the Curlew with a surprised and disappointed expression on his face.

These birds need a large aviary with plenty of length and some cover so they can “hide”.   A large planted aviary is usually the best although I have known birds that have lived quite happily in quite small aviaries.   They seem to become accustomed to their surroundings if introduced to an enclosure when young and in general do not like to be moved and it can take some time for them to settle down into a new environment.   Having said that I have moved birds on a number of occasions from one place to another without any problems and all have settled in well in a short space of time.
 
Their nest is a very simple affair made up of a collection of stones into the middle of which two eggs are laid.  Usually two days apart.  Incubation time is around 24 days during which time the male becomes very aggressive and will defend his partner and the nesting site with much enthusiasm

For our aviary birds we have used the following diet successfully for many years.

The ingredients are
Pet mince as purchased from any good butcher,
Mealworms,
Mice and/or day old chickens (dead of course).
Wombaroo Insectivore Rearing Mix (*see note) 

To the pet mince add a quantity of Wombaroo Insectivore Rearing Mix.     Add enough until the minced meat gains a crumbly consistency.      This can be kept refrigerated for two or three days.    Feed once a day in the evening but only enough to satisfy the birds for that night.    You will need to experiment with quantities and you may find that they may eat more at some times and less at others.    DO NOT overfeed – this food source will go off very rapidly.

 

Mealworms are important at breeding times and the occasional dead mouse will be appreciated.    They will sometimes catch mice within the confines of the aviary if they are quick enough, although the mice usually win.   Never put Curlews in an aviary with finches or they also will be a light snack if the Curlews can catch them (unless, of course, if you need a population control (e.g. as in a Zebra Finch aviary).
                                                                                   

Fresh water should be available at all times.

 

*Note:  Since this was first written we have added Passwell Yellow Factor Finch Handraising Food to the mix as well as a few soaked (in water) Parrot pellets

If you wish to keep these birds in South Australia you will need a permit from the Department for Environment and Heritage (Permit application forms can be found here.  This link will open in a new browser window).

In other states you will need to contact your local wildlife authority for information.

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