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A photo of a Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella)
Australian Pratincole

Australian Pratincole

Stiltia isabella

The Australian pratincole, Stiltia isabella, is a medium-sized, nomadic shorebird with a distinctive slender build. It possesses long legs, long pointed wings, and a short, slightly curved bill. This bird measures between 19 to 24 centimeters in length, with a wingspan ranging from 50 to 60 centimeters, and weighs between 55 to 75 grams. The sexes are similar in appearance, though they can be distinguished by their breeding and non-breeding plumages.

Identification Tips

In breeding plumage, the Australian pratincole's head, neck, breast, and upperparts exhibit a sandy brown coloration, while the wings are pointed and black with a notable black stripe across the lores. The chin and throat are white, transitioning to a sandy brown breast. The bill is a striking red with a black base, and the legs and feet are grey to black. Non-breeding plumage sees a fainter loral stripe and paler bill base, with grey-brown upperparts edged in sandy-buff. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but are paler with streaked foreheads and lack the black lores. In flight, the bird's upper body and inner wing maintain the sandy brown color, but the outer wing is black, and the tail is square-cut with white upper-tail coverts and tail sides.


The Australian pratincole favors treeless, open plains, grasslands, and sparsely wooded areas, typically within arid and semi-arid zones. They are also found near wetlands, creeks, riverbeds, and other water sources, especially during breeding when they require low shrubland for chick shelter.


This species breeds in the interior of Australia, with a range extending from southwestern Queensland to northern Victoria and across central Australia to the Kimberley region in Western Australia. It winters in northern and eastern Australia, as well as in parts of Indonesia and New Guinea.


Australian pratincoles are migratory, moving south to breed in spring and summer, and north to overwinter. They are monogamous during the breeding season, with pairs staying together and engaging in courtship rituals. They are known to gather in flocks during migration, with calls continuously heard within the group.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the Australian pratincole includes sweet or plaintive whistles, soft trills, and loud sharp notes. Four distinct call types have been identified: the flight call, a series of sweet whistling notes; the far-contact call, a plaintive sound used between mates and to call chicks; the greeting call, a gentle trill used in courtship; and the alarm call, a series of loud sharp notes often paired with distraction displays.


Breeding pairs lay two eggs, typically on bare ground within a scrape, sometimes lined with small stones or organic material. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the semi-precocial chicks, which are sandy buff with black markings. The young fledge at 4–5 weeks of age.

Similar Species

The Australian pratincole is often compared to the oriental pratincole (Glareola maldivarum), but it is slimmer and smaller with longer legs.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet primarily consists of insects, spiders, and centipedes, which they catch in flight or pick from the ground. They forage actively during the day, peaking at dawn and dusk, and can drink both saline and ephemeral water due to their salt glands.

Conservation status

The Australian pratincole is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of 60,000 individuals. However, their occurrence is unpredictable and varies in location.

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Australian Pratincoles on Birda


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