Dining with Bush Stone-curlews

Nocturnal, ground-dwelling and beautifully camouflaged, Bush Stone- Curlews stand completely still when threatened. They are famously difficult to see. Sadly this gives no protection against habitat loss and introduced predators that hunt by following a scent trail, and the birds now face local extinction in central Victoria. Karen McGregor reports on a program to bring curlews home to a safe and suitable environment.

The March IFFA excursion was held in Lockwood (just south of Bendigo) where we were fortunate to meet some Bush Stone-curlews in a captive breeding program run by the Upper Spring Creek Landcare Group. We saw two enclosures, one with a pair of shy curlews and one with four curious brothers and sisters (who had been given to the program by Halls Gap Zoo). The curlews are fed at dusk on a diet of 75-100g per day of premium chicken loaf (dog food), hardboiled eggs (including shell), mealworms, Wombaroo insectivore dry mix and earthworms. 

We also travelled around the area to see various fox/cat proof fenced exclusion sites which are several hectares in size. These are the sites where the curlews will be released to provide safe breeding areas. The group is currently working to increase curlew habitat in the sites. The preferred habitat of these birds is grassy woodland with fallen tree debris and leaf litter, which 

is essential for roost sites and finding food. Roost areas contain little or no shrub layer, with a sparse groundstorey. The Landcare group has also installed many nest boxes in the area which are enjoyed by Brush-tailed Phascogales and Sugar Gliders. 

A visit to Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve showed the success of the ecological thinning program where up to one-third of the dense regrowth eucalypt trees were felled. These trees were carefully selected and cut to fall across the contours in order to increase leaf litter accumulation and water retention in the reserve. This proved effective when a downslope dam received much less runoff than before the thinning. Soon after the canopy was opened up the remaining (healthier) eucalypts began to flower due to the decreased competition for light and resources. This in turn attracted Swift Parrots to the area. We wish this group continued success and that the local wildlife population will continue to grow.