Burhinus oedicnemus (Linnaeus, 1758) TN STOCU 4590
Family: Charadriiformes > Burhinidae

Stone-curlew, Chris Knights

The ‘Stone-curlew is a scarce, distinctive looking wader of sandy heaths and open ground with its stronghold in East Anglia.

With its patterned sand-coloured plumage the Stone-curlew is perfectly camouflaged and can be hard to spot. Further, it is mostly active at dusk and dawn, and sits still for most of the day avoiding the attention of predators. Its large eyes mean it can find and feed on ground-dwelling invertebrates even in very low light.

Numbers declined historically, reaching a low point in the 1980s, but dedicated conservation efforts mean breeding numbers have now more than doubled. Most individuals migrate for the winter, but they are increasingly leaving late and returning early, so are now recorded in almost all months.


Stone-curlew identification is usually straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Stone-curlew, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Historically, the Stone-curlew was found more widely across the UK, but numbers reported to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel dropped to a low point in 1977; however, numbers in the 1970s are likely to have been significantly under-reported and the true low point may have been in the mid-1980s when around 100 pairs were breeding (RBBP report 1985). Comprehensive fieldwork by the RSPB began in 1985 and the species has subsequently benefited from intensive conservation efforts with numbers peaking at 473 pairs in 2012. The five-year mean population estimate from the Rare Breeding Birds Panel for the period 2015–2019 was 328 breeding pairs, but complete survey coverage is no longer achieved following the end of EU-LIFE+ project funding in 2016 (Eaton et al. 2021). Despite the population increases, the range has decreased by 42% since the 1968–72 Atlas, with the contraction occurring prior to the 1988–91 Atlas (Balmer et al. 2013) and hence during the initial decline prior to increased conservation focus on this species.


Stone-curlews prefer sparse vegetation and bare ground. In Britain this combination is provided either by short semi-natural grassland or by spring-sown crops. They breed in two main areas, the East Anglian Breckland and Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, with a growing population on the Sandlings of coastal Suffolk. Small numbers have breed in Sussex.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Stone-curlews are summer visitors to southern and eastern heathlands from late March onwards. In some years birds linger into November and there are occasional winter records.

Weekly occurence of Stone-curlew from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Stone-curlew ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Stone-curlew, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Welsh: Rhedwr y Moelydd
Catalan: torlit comú
Czech: dytík úhorní
Danish: Triel
Dutch: Griel
Estonian: jämejalg
Finnish: paksujalka
French: Oedicnème criard
German: Triel
Hungarian: ugartyúk
Icelandic: Tríll
Irish: Crotach Cloch
Italian: Occhione
Latvian: lielacis
Lithuanian: paprastasis storkulnis
Norwegian: Triel
Polish: kulon (zwyczajny)
Portuguese: alcaravão
Slovak: ležiak úhorový
Slovenian: prlivka
Spanish: Alcaraván común
Swedish: tjockfot
Folkname: Great/Norfolk Plover


Interpretation and scientific publications about Stone-curlew from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

Losses since 1850 have been attributed to land enclosure, afforestation, lack of grazing, the cessation of rabbit warrening and the conversion of pasture to arable farmland (Balmer et al. 2013). The significant increases since the mid-1980s can be attributed to intensive conservation management and associated agri-environment schemes, which may also benefit other species including Skylark, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Lapwing (MacDonald et al. 2012) . A substantial decrease in Stone-Curlew abundance from 473 pairs to 319 pairs between 2012 and 2013 was attributed to the effects of a cold, wet spring in 2013 (Holling et al. 2015). Reported numbers have not subsequently reached the 2012 peak, but complete survey coverage has not been achieved since EU-LIFE+ project ended in 2016: consequently the direction of the recent trend less unclear and hence current drivers of change are also uncertain.

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