Weird is not a descriptive word you expect to find within a species entry in a respected bird guide. Nevertheless, Pizzey and Knight found themselves using “weird” in listing diagnostics for the Bush Stone-Curlew (Burhinus grallarius). “Shy, watchful: moves weirdly, slowly, often with head lowered”, they note. Both in looks and behaviour, the Bush Stone-curlew is …well, a bit out there really. Not least of its weirdness is its call which has been known to send serious shivers up the spine of those hearing it for the first time when camping in the bush. P&K again: “…a far-carrying, eerie whistling call (or chorus) that starts low and quietly — a drawn out “wee-eeer”, repeated up to five times, rises, becomes a high-pitched, drawn out “keeleeoo, quickens, breaks, descends…”. Some folk think it sounds like a person wailing in distress, or, at the least, “it’s spooky”. The Bush Stone-Curlew is in trouble in parts of its range — rare to wholly extinct in settled parts of coastal SE Australia. It’s doing a lot better in the north and in Darwin it’s become part of the suburban scene. Indeed the pictures above were taken at the end of my street in the grounds of a hostel for missionary priests. Lying flat on the ground on grey and brown leaves and mulch it’s very well camouflaged and may choose to stay perfectly still until you get within a metre or so. At that point it rises up quickly onto its spindly legs — which can be unnerving if your thoughts were elsewhere at the time you enter its private space.It spends a lot of time in zen-like stillness — sometimes with one leg raised and its extra big yellow eyes staring into the void. It’s not big on making eye-contact, and would rather pretend you’re not really there. It’s a beautiful and charming neighbour — once you get used to that spooky shriek.

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