Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Week 24: Lapwing (‘Vanellus vanellus’)

The Lapwing was @SpeciesofUK from 26th May to 1st June, 2013.

The lapwing is from the Charadriidae family (plovers/dotterel/lapwings), which contains around 65 species. A lapwing is kind of a large plover.[1]

It is a very familiar bird, often seen in farmland across the UK.[2] In fact, the lapwing is the UK's commonest breeding wader.[3]

The Lapwing
[Source: Wikimedia Commons © Alpsdake]

Aside from in the UK, the lapwing is found across Europe, Asia and North Africa. It's quite a widespread bird.[4] Across the whole of Europe there are somewhere between 1.1 and 1.7 million breeding pairs of lapwing. Globally there are as many as five million.[5]

Lapwings are native to the UK. In the winter, even more of them come to visit us from abroad.

The lapwing is very much a native UK bird. There is fossil evidence of its presence here from during the last Ice Age.[6]

In the breeding season the lapwing prefers uplands with cereals, root crops or pasture. It's also found on wetlands.[7] Most lapwings migrate fully. The UK (along with parts of France and the Mediterranean) is unusual in that most of our breeding lapwings don't migrate.[8]

Lapwing in Grassland
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Agustín Povedano]

In the autumn, large numbers arrive here from northern Europe for the winter, swelling the population from 140k breeding pairs to 650k.[9]  They flock on lowland ploughed fields or pasture, joining our native breeding lapwings who head down from the uplands.

Lapwings on Ploughed Field
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Colin-47]

The highest winter concentrations of lapwing are in the Somerset Levels, Humber and Ribble estuaries, Breydon Water/Berney Marshes, the Wash, and Morecambe Bay.[10]

Sadly though, the lapwing has sufffered significant declines recently (UK numbers have halved since the 1970s) and it is now an RSPB Red List species.[11] The reasons for the decline include changing farming practices and wetland drainage.[12]

The Netherlands is the lapwing’s favourite place.

The lapwing might be a common breeding bird in the UK, but if any country can claim this bird as its own, it’s not us, it’s the Netherlands! - lapwings love the rich mixture of grassland and wetland over there.[13]

The UK boasts around 140k breeding pairs of the lapwing. The Netherlands, a much smaller country, has somewhere between 200-300k breeding pairs.[14]

The lapwing is a bird of many names.

The name 'lapwing' comes from Old English 'hleapewince,' from hleapan to leap and wincian to jerk, in reference to its distinctive flight pattern.[15] It is properly called the 'Northern Lapwing,' to distinguish it from others lapwing species around the world.[16]

Lapwing in Flight
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © jvverde]

The Latin name of the lapwing, Vanellus vanellus, is from 'vannus' a winnowing fan (in reference to its floppy flight).[17]

Other names for the lapwing are Peewit, Green Plover, Teuchit, Hornpie, Flopwing, Curracag (Gaelic), and Cornchwiglen (Welsh).[18]

Peewits or Green Plovers?
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © pseudolapiz]

The name 'peewit' is the most common alternative to 'lapwing' in the UK. It refers to the sound of its display call.[19]

The name 'teuchit' for the lapwing isn't much used now. The 'teuchit's storm' means wintry weather in March when lapwings would arrive to nest.[20]

Chaucer once described the lapwing as the 'false lapwynge, ful of treacherye.' The lapwing has been associated with deceit ever since. A group of lapwings is still known as a 'deceit' and 'to hunt the teuchit' used to mean go on a wild goose chase, referring to the ability of the lapwing to distract predators away from its nest.[21]

Look closely, and you'll see the lapwing is one of the most spectacular and exotic birds we have.

The lapwing has a long black crest, a glossy green, blue and purple back, orange under the tail, and black and white on the front and head.[22] You won’t find many birds as colourful as this.

Lapwing showing off its colourful plumage
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © ferran pestaña]

The lapwing's black and white appearance and black rounded "paddle-shape" wings make it easy to see even in flight.[23]

Lapwings in Flight
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Wildaboutburnley]

The male and female lapwing look very similar. The male has a longer crest in the summer. In winter, both develop a buff-coloured border to the feathers of their upperparts.[24]

The long crest means it's probably a Male
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © phenolog]

The lapwing’s typical call is a shrill and very recognisable “pee-wit.” The male in breeding season extends this to a wheezy “pee-wit, wit wit, eeze wit."[25]

They have a love/hate relationship with gulls.

The lapwing eats worms and insects (beetles, ants, crickets...) from the ground. They also sometimes eat spiders, snails, frogs, small fish and plant material.[26]

You’ll often see lapwings in mixed flocks with black-headed gulls. The gulls are tolerated because they provide some protection against predators but they’re really there to rob the lapwing of its food![27]

Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Dan Irizarry]

As a result, the lapwing feeds mainly at night, to avoid food-stealing from the gulls. Under a full moon, they will actually feast all night and roost during the day![28]

Male lapwings put on a fantastic show to impress their prospective partners.

Lapwing courtship begins during February. Males perform very distinctive display flights, climbing steeply upwards before tumbling down very close to the ground.[29]

Here is a cracking video of this display:

The lapwing nest is a shallow scrape in the ground. There are 3 or 4 eggs. Incubation lasts between 26 and 28 days. There’s only one brood per year.[30]

Lapwing Nest
[Source: Wikimedia Commons © Rasbak]

Lapwing Chick
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Marko_K

Lapwing chicks can walk early and they fledge after 35 to 40 days.[31] If the nest is under threat, chicks lay close to the ground while the adults mob predators and force/lead them away from the nest.[32]

Strange but true…

In Iran, the lapwing is hunted to be sold for food.[33]

[3] Bird Watching, May 2013.

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