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Burhinidae – Thick-knees

Spotted Thick-knee in Senegal: Photo by Luke Seitz

Thick-knees, also known as stone-curlews, are nocturnal birds of open habitats like grasslands and savannas across various continents. Named for their distinctive, pronounced knee joints, these birds have large eyes adapted for low-light conditions. Their cryptic plumage helps them blend in with their surroundings during the day, and they are known for their haunting, wailing calls at night. Thick-knees are ground nesters and are more often heard than seen due to their secretive behavior.

Overview of Burhinidae

Thick-knees are large terrestrial shorebirds that often inhabit areas far from water. They have large eyes and cryptic plumage, making them primarily nocturnal, with haunting cries that resonate across open landscapes at night. During the day, most thick-knees stay quiet and rest in the shade of available vegetation. Their long wings are less pointed than those of other charadriiforms and display bold black-and-white stripes or white spots when spread. Although named for their “knees” (actually their ankles), these joints are only slightly thicker than those of other birds in their order.