When we visited Hervey’s Range a couple of weeks ago we were told there was a family of four curlews – technically Bush Stone-curlews, Burhinus grallarius, but always known locally simply as curlews – living in the house yard.
I found one of the parents quickly enough (above) under some trees and, when I got close enough to scare it, the chick popped up out of nowhere and the two of them ran to hide amongst vines nearby, as seen in the photo below. I went away, and came back when they returned to their first position, took another photo of the parent, couldn’t see the chick until I got close enough to scare them and the chick popped up out of nowhere … two more times!
Looking closely at the photo above afterwards I found the chick – out of focus because I really had not been able to see it when I was taking the photo, but undeniably present and alert.
But what of the other parent and chick? We couldn’t find them for a long time and when we did, they looked dead:
We approached them cautiously, debating whether they were in fact dead or just pretending. The open eye suggested they were alive but but the absolute stillness and the ants crawling across the feathers suggested otherwise. Eventually I squatted down, reached out, and touched the parent – and they both jumped up and ran off!
They didn’t go far and I was able to get a few more shots of them in the same patch of garden during the afternoon.
Standing absolutely still is their commonest concealment strategy and works very well in their normal habitat, open scrub with tall grasses and plenty of leaf litter. Playing dead must also work well amongst dead leaves and sticks, and they even “know” how to line themselves up near any fallen timber so that they mimic a part of the same branch, but there is a penalty: if they are detected, it takes them longer to get to their feet to run or fly away. Perhaps that’s why they do it less often.