Burhinidae – Thick-knees & Stone Curlews

Water Thick-knee Burhinus vermiculata ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Burhinidae or stone-curlews, also known as dikkops or thick-knees, consist of ten species found throughout the tropical and temperate parts of the world, with two species found in Australia. Despite the group being classified as waders, most species have a preference for arid or semi-arid habitats.

They are medium to large birds with strong black or yellow black bills, large yellow eyes—which give them a reptilian appearance—and cryptic plumage. The names thick-knee and stone-curlew are both in common use, the preference among authorities for one term or the other varying from year to year. The term stone-curlew owes its origin to the broad similarities with true curlews (which are not closely related). Thick-knee refers to the prominent joints in the long yellow or greenish legs and apparently originated with a name coined in 1776 for B. oedicnemus, the Eurasian stone-curlew. Obviously the heel (ankle) and the knee are confused here.

They are largely nocturnal, particularly when singing their loud wailing songs, which are reminiscent of true curlews. The diet consists mainly of insects and other invertebrates such as desert snails. Larger species will also take lizards and even small mammals. Most species are sedentary, but the Eurasian Stone-curlew is a summer migrant in the temperate European part of its range, wintering in Africa.

According to the IOC, there are just ten species of Thick-knees or Stone Curlews in the family Burhinidae; they are:

Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Indian Stone-curlew Burhinus indicus
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
Water Thick-knee Burhinus vermiculata
Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis
Double-striped Thick-knee Burhinus bistriatus
Peruvian Thick-knee Burhinus superciliaris
Bush Stone-curlew Burhinus grallarius
Great Stone-curlew Burhinus recurvirostris
Beach Stone-curlew Burhinus giganteus

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 10

Useful Reading
  • Shorebirds

    (WorldLife Library) by Des Thimpson, Ingvar Byrkjedal 2001 ISBN: 1841070750 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds

    An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World by Pter Hayman, John Marchant and Tony Prater - Helm 1986 ISBN: 0713635096 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds of North America - The Photographic guide

    by Dennis Paulson Christopher Helm 2005. Price ?24.99p ISBN: 071367377X Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Waders of Europe, Asia & North America

    by Stephen Message & Don Taylor published by Christopher Helm 2006 price ?24.99p See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 071365290X Buy this book from NHBS.com
Other Links
  • The New Shorebirds Handbook Project

    This is a blog of The New Shorebirds Handbook Project which aims to bring together the current knowledge on shorebird science, conservation and a little bit more. By following the blog, readers could insight into the progress and important milestones of the project and the recent news on the world of waders and a bit more of us, the authors….
  • Wader Quest

    It is vital to to take action to prevent the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from becoming extinct. Wader Quest is an attempt to raise money and awareness to the plight of, not just these tiny wanderers but of wader species worldwide…
Photographers & Artists
  • Double-striped Thick-knees Burhinus bistriatus

    Excellent image
  • Double-striped Thick-knees Burhinus bistriatus

    Excellent image

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