Pratincoles (PRAT-un-kohlz) and coursers vary in size from 6.7 to 11.4 inches (17 to 29 centimeters) in length and 1.3 to 6.1 ounces (37 to 172 grams) in weight. Pratincoles generally have slender bodies, long wings, and short legs. They also have beaks that open wide, which helps them catch insects while flying. One pratincole, the Australian pratincole, has very long legs, however. The coursers, on the other hand, tend to have stockier bodies, shorter wings, and very long legs. Coursers are also characterized by a square tail.


Pratincoles and coursers are found in portions of Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.


Most pratincoles live near water, with many species preferring areas along large rivers. Pratincoles of Europe and Asia generally occur in grassland or desert habitats near water. The Egyptian plover occupies sandbars along tropical African rivers. Coursers occupy dry habitats of various types, including extreme desert.


All pratincoles and coursers eat primarily insects. Coursers will sometimes also eat other invertebrates, animals without a backbone, such as mollusks, as well as seeds. Pratincoles catch their insect prey “on the wing,” that is, in the air while flying. Sometimes they search for insects on the ground as well. Coursers, on the other hand, find food exclusively on the ground, pecking at food items with their bills. Some coursers have bills that curve downward, and use these bills to dig through soft sand or mud for insects and seeds.


During the nonbreeding season, pratincoles can be found in flocks of as many as 100 individuals. They prefer to rest either on the ground or on rocks in the middle of rivers. All the members of the flock face the same direction, into the wind. Praticoles have loud, sharp calls which they use most often during migrations or when they are disturbed at their breeding sites.

Coursers are fast runners that generally prefer to run rather than fly from danger. However, they are good fliers as well. Unlike pratincoles, coursers are generally found alone, although small flocks of no more than five to ten individuals are sometimes seen. Many coursers, particularly those in dry, desert environments, move around a great deal as suitable habitat shifts. Coursers are often diurnal, that is, active during the day, but may switch to being nocturnal, active at night, in hot weather.

Pratincoles and coursers either build nests by scraping a shallow indentation on the ground, or use no nest at all. A few species bury their eggs partially in sand. Pratincoles sometimes nest in large colonies, while coursers are solitary nesters, with each pair isolated from other pairs. Pratincoles in the Northern Hemisphere lay two to four eggs at a time. Other species lay no more than two. One species, the double-banded courser, lays only one egg at a time. Eggs are generally either white or creamcolored and marked with spots of streaks to help them blend into their environments.


Pratincoles and coursers are hunted for food in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. Collared pratincole eggs were collected for food in Hungary until that population was wiped out.


Of the sixteen species of pratincoles and coursers, one, the Jerdon’s courser, is considered Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction. Populations have declined in their habitats in east-central India due to habitat destruction and disturbance by humans.