Animal Species:Australian Pratincole

The Australian Pratincole is also known as 'Roadrunner'. On the ground, it is like a plover, running and darting along on its long legs catching insects. However, in flight it is more like a tern, flying elegantly with long, narrow wings.

Australian Pratincole

Australian Pratincole
Photographer: Purnell Collection © Australian Museum

Standard Common Name

Australian Pratincole

Alternative Name/s

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


The Australian Pratincole is a long-legged, slim-bodied bird with an upright stance and elegant posture when perched. It is sandy-olive with very long, narrow, pointed black wings, and has a deep chestnut brown and black patch on its flanks. When breeding, the bill is bright red at the base and on the gape, the legs and feet are dark grey, brownish or dark red. When not breeding, the plumage is duller, the bill mostly black, with blackish spotting on the throat and smaller flank-marks.

Size range

19 cm to 24 cm

Similar Species

The Australian Pratincole is smaller and slimmer than the Oriental Pratincole, Glareola maldivarum.


The Australian Pratincole is mainly found in the north and eastern inland of Australia, as well as on Lord Howe Island, Christmas Island, and in New Guinea, Borneo and Sulawesi.


The Australian Pratincole is most commonly found close to water, in open inland plains, sparsely wooded plains and tussock grasslands, usually in arid and semi-arid rainfall zones, and mainly in the lowlands. It is also found in areas of gibber (stony plains) and stony ground, and areas with sparse vegetation including claypans, stock-tanks, stock routes and airfields.


Australian Pratincoles are migratory within Australia. In spring and summer, they generally move to the southern parts of their range to breed, returning to northern parts in the winter. They fly at night. 

Feeding and Diet

The Australian Pratincole is insectivorous, feeding at dawn and in the evening on insects, spiders and centipedes. It has active salt-glands, which enable it to drink both fresh and saline water. It dashes after insects and small prey and often bobs its head.


Sweet whistling 'weeteet' or shrill 'quirriepeet'.

Mating and reproduction

The Australian Pratincole can breed in any month after suitable rain. It is probably monogamous, and pair-bonds are maintained during breeding. Both sexes incubate the eggs and brood the young. The female lays the eggs on bare ground, sometimes choosing a small hollow in the ground, or scraping out a circle on stony ground. The nest is sometimes lined with small pebbles, dry vegetation or rabbit dung.

  • Breeding season: September to December
  • Clutch size: Two, rarely one.
  • Incubation: 20 days
  • Time in nest: 45 days



What does this mean?


  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Morcombe, M. 2000. Field guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.
  • Higgins, P.J. and S.J.J.F. Davies (eds) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 3 (Snipe to Pigeons). Oxford University Press, Victoria.

Charlie Andrews
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Tags BIBY, bird, birds, shore birds, waders, identification,