Glareolidae – Coursers & Pratincoles

Double-banded Courser Rhinoptilus africanus ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Glareolidae are a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadri. It contains two distinct groups, the pratincoles and the coursers. The atypical Egyptian plover (Pluvianus aegyptius), traditionally placed in this family, is now known to be only distantly related.

The family contains 17 species in 4 genera.

The feature that defines the family from the rest of the order is the bill, which is arched and has the nostrils at the base. The pratincoles have short legs, long pointed wings and long forked tails. They have a buoyant flight that allows them the unusual (for the order) hunting technique of taking their insect prey on the wing like swallows. The wings also allow for long migrations in some species. The coursers have long legs, which are used to run (giving the group its name. The wings are shorter and have a more sustained flight than that of the pratincoles.

The coursers are crepuscular and nocturnal in their habits, and are generally inconspicuous, particularly the woodland species. They are not as social as the highly gregarious and noisy pratincoles, some species of which may also active at dawn and dusk.

Insects form the majority of the diet of the Glareolidae. The pratincoles forage mainly on the wing, but are able to take prey on the ground as well. They are opportunistic, and have been recorded attending herds of antelope to snatch insects flushed up by their movement, or even insects attracted to street lights. Swarming insects, such as locusts or termites, are particularly targeted. Coursers are exclusively terrestrial, and feed in a plover-like fashion, running, then stopping to scan for prey before moving on. Some species may dig for insects win soft soil with their bills. In addition to insects coursers may also take molluscs and some seeds.

The pratincoles and coursers have an Old World distribution, occurring in southern Europe, Asia, Africa (including Madagascar), and Australia. The family is thought to have evolved in Africa, which is where the family achieves its greatest diversity.

The IOC considered there to be 17 species in this family, which are:

Cream-colored Courser Cursorius cursor
Somali Courser Cursorius somalensis
Burchell’s Courser Cursorius rufus
Temminck’s Courser Cursorius temminckii
Indian Courser Cursorius coromandelicus

Double-banded Courser Rhinoptilus africanus
Three-banded Courser Rhinoptilus cinctus
Bronze-winged Courser Rhinoptilus chalcopterus
Jerdon’s Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus

Australian Pratincole Stiltia isabella

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum
Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni
Madagascan Pratincole Glareola ocularis
Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis
Grey Pratincole Glareola cinerea
Small Pratincole Glareola lactea

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 17

Useful Reading
  • Shorebirds

    (WorldLife Library) by Des Thimpson, Ingvar Byrkjedal 2001 ISBN: 1841070750 Buy this book from
  • 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
  • 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
  • International Wader Study Group

    The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is an association of amateurs and professionals from all parts of the world interested in Charadrii (waders or shorebirds). Membership of the WSG is currently over 650 worldwide. Members can be found in over 50 countries around the world, including all European countries and the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia. The interests of the group have diversified from its original focus from ringing and migration-related studies to embrace all aspects of wader biology.
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
  • Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni

    Series of images…

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