The sound of a curlew crying at night has many meanings according to Aboriginal lore.  Xavier Herbert writes in “Poor Man My Country” that curlew calls the spirits of souls wanting to be born. In the northern areas of Queensland, it is the sound of the dead returning to the Dreaming.[1]  Tragically, it has also been regarded as the cries of a mother who has lost her children, so she forever mourns them.[2] Sorrow and bereavement certainly apply well to the tragic cries of this bird. The face of death as a personal experience of loss and bereavement is an unavoidable transition or life change we all face sometime, and may be one part of curlew’s message. It’s not necessarily a death, it could be the end of something important… the loss of something that means something.

Parenting and grief, or separation, seems to be a common theme around Dreamings featuring the curlew. As a native symbol, curlew may refer to the pains and sorrows of parenting – from minor playground spats to a fear of loss or harm to one’s children. The energies of parenting may also relate to caring for animals and projects which require time and guidance or teaching on some level.

Curlew’s energies may bring to the surface the need to protect others, to be responsible for their well-being, or feel that way. Perceived failure in this respect brings not only sorrow, but great guilt, even if every care was taken. Tragedies and loss are a part of our material existence, and curlew’s bereft calls may bring a poignant reminder one is not always safe from loss and emotional pain.

Separation is perhaps the main cause of curlew’s pain, and this may be reflected in our world in many ways – children leaving home to go to school for the first time, or as young adults about to begin the journey of growth and experience as independent beings. Children of separating or separated parents can be represented here too.

And uncomfortable as it is to face, death is perhaps the greatest separation. ‘Letting go’ and acceptance are the main lessons with curlew, as well as the human experience of sorrow and emotional pain surrounding a meaningful separation.

Love’s shadow side is illuminated by the cries of this bird. With love, the fear of loss, and even an actual loss, can dim the beauty and joy of love and its expression. And it’s quite fitting curlew can mean new life, new beginnings, the spark of something new.

The curlew may be heard at night, in the dark, when all is still, quiet and mysterious, even in the rain, the flood of Biami’s tears. It might be an opportunity to count blessing and appreciate the loved ones in your life. Remember the best qualities of the parent and child relationship when you hear curlew in the wee hours before dawn, when night is at its darkest.

You don’t often see curlew fly, he’s mostly a land bird, so if you do, perhaps take the opportunity to look at where you march to a different drumbeat to others and indulge in it!

[1]               Isaacs, Jennifer. “Thancoupie the Potter.”

[2]               Mountford, Charles P. “The Dreamtime.”  and  “The Dawn of Time.”  Reed, A.W. “Aboriginal Myths.”

Herbert, X. Poor Fellow, My Country  Wiki

This is such a typical call from a curlew – how would you interpret curlew calling at your door?!

A wonderful Crikey article on the Curlew

Zoomorphic’s engaging article



Comments 7

  1. Spurwing Plover

    Long enduring shorebird do you suppose the Eskimo curlew could still be alive just hiding out

  2. Kay

    I have noticed the curlews come at night but they always come just before rain either with in a day to three days max it will rain with out fail! Amazing birds to see and watch

  3. Suzy

    This fascinating curlew bird thie’ve been in my backyard outside my window for weeks now. I can’t get enough looking at them through my kitchen window. They never move it’s three of them I think it’s mum dad and the baby.? Not long ago I think one adult went walk about next door. Then next I heard this little noise so I watch it for a while then noise it get louder calling out for the other one next door so amazing sounds I love it I hope they won’t leave my back yard

  4. Lyn

    Is there any truth to the saying in North Qld that f the curlew calls before 7 pm in the evening, that it mens I will rain!

    1. Post

      Hi Lyn, I live in FNQ and I haven’t heard that one before. I have heard them calling in the day – I’ll have to take more notice I think! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  5. Bruce

    I’ve had one in the other side of a barbed wire fence. Wings spread, like it was dancing along side the fence as I walked. It was amazing, I’ve heard them cry as well. It usually coincides with a moment or in deapth conversation.

    1. Post

      Hi Bruce 🙂 Thanks for your comment. Most likely the curlew was protecting a nest or young, they can become quite defensive and even give chase. They are one of my all time favourite birds, and yes they are amazing!

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