photo of curlew
photo of curlew
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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. Grief and loss, sorrow and heartache encompass many facets of life.

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 and navigating how to express it and work through it.

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. Life is a never-ending cycle and, again, this bird does not mean a death in the harshest sense, but might refer to endings and new beginnings in your life.

The curlew may be heard at day, in the night, anytime. It might be an opportunity to count blessing and appreciate the loved ones in your life. 

You don’t often see curlew fly, he’s mostly a land bird, so if you do, perhaps it’s time to look within and see how you too can fly, even with grief and loss as your companion.

[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