The curlew is Magnetic Island's signature bird, an unusual, bush-dwelling, wader more often heard than seen. It has been variously known as the bush thick-knee, the southern stone-curlew, the weeloo or the willaroo.
The curlew is rare to wholly extinct in settled parts of coastal south-eastern Australia, vulnerable in southern Australia and declining elsewhere. Once abundant in all but the driest interior regions of the continent, the coastal islands of northern Australia are among the last remaining strongholds for this extraordinary bird. Magnetic Island is one of the few places in Australia where it can be seen easily in relative abundance.
The curlew lives predominantly in lowland open woodland and dry watercourse environments with fallen branches, leaf litter and sparse grass. No curlews are found in the extensive upland areas of the Island.
A shy, watchful bird, it is active at night, hunting and feeding on a wide variety of insects. The curlew is the chameleon of the bird world with its plumage perfectly adapted to the ever-changing palette of fallen eucalypt leaves on the island.
When threatened, particularly at nesting time, the female lies flattened with head extended on the ground and the male either freezes 'stick like', hissing, or advances with wings mantled, screeching, to drive off the intruders.
Nesting is a scrape in the ground amid the eucalypt leaf litter. There are usually two eggs and two chicks hatched. The chicks grow quickly but take 52 days to reach fledgling status and independent flight. This makes the chicks particularly vulnerable to predation. Curlew parents are lucky to fledge one chick per nesting.
The curlew's eerie whistling call starts low and quietly builds to a repetitive, high-pitched, chorusing crescendo as all the birds in the area join in. Many an unsuspecting visitor has spent a sleepless night enjoying this unique performance.
As a ground-dwelling, ground-nesting bird, the curlew is particularly vulnerable to the urbanisation of its traditional range and habitats. Loss of habitat, predation from domestic cats and dogs and death by vehicles have had a significant effect on local populations.