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Australian Pratincole

Australian Pratincole - Juvenile © 2010 Jun Matsui

Stiltia isabella

Subspecies

None

Other Names

Australian Courser, Swallow-plover, Roadrunner, Long-legged Pratincole, Prat, Arnhem Land Grouse, Nankeen Plover.

Identification

Medium-sized slander wader of the open and drier parts of Australia. 

Australian Pratincole - Adult © 2010 Jun Matsui

Plumage

Adult:  The upperparts are orange-buff, though the lores are black and the chin and throat are white.  The breast is a paler orange-buff with a broken chestnut band at the base of the breast.  This band extends on to the flanks and belly.  The vent and rump are white.  The tail is white with a black band on the tip, also is square.  The bill is red with a black tip.  The legs are long and brown.

Juvenile:  Similar to the adult plumage, but has buff edging to the upper feathers.  The band and belly colour is mottled brown.  The bill is dark.

Distribution

Found in the northern third of Australia spreading south through the Northern Territory and into South Australia and northern Victoria.  It is found on the open plains of inland Australia though usually keeps clear of spinifex and Acacia areas.

Migratory habits

This wader reverses the usual pattern of Australian migratory waders, with birds breeding in the spring and summer returning north in the autumn and winter.  However, many of the Australian Pratincoles will remain in the northern parts of Australia over the winter months.  Birds build up in numbers in the northern half of Australia between April through to June then spread south.  The birds return north in February.  Most birds will travel north into New Guinea, Malaysia and  the Philippines.

Breeding

This migratory wader breeds in Australia from October to December, though will breed earlier in the north of the country.  It breeds in loose colonies normally within 1km of a water source and south of 20º.  The 2 eggs are laid on the bare ground and incubated for about 21 days.  Fledging at between 4 or 5 weeks.

Status

There are about 60,000 birds recorded during migration with about 12,000 staying over the winter.

Confusing Species

Oriental Pratincole: This bird is rounder, shorter-legged and darker than the Australian Pratincole.  There is a different flight pattern and the tail is forked not square.

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