Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus

Also known as the Peewit which describes the shrill call, and sometimes Green Plover, the Lapwing is resident in Wiltshire.

Lapwing, WWT/ Darin Smith

 

Habitat

Open farmland, especially those that are mixed farms that have large areas of arable land or grassland as well as unimproved meadow, are the Lapwings preferred habitat. In winter they flock in large numbers on pasture and ploughed fields. During the breeding season they need a mosaic of habitats for nesting and chick rearing, including spring sown cereals, root crops and permanent unimproved pasture with wetland areas; these habitats are rich in invertebrates which are fed to the young.

Description

The Lapwing has a very striking appearance with its black and white plumage, iridescent green back, and its black crest. Males and females are similar in appearance; males have more strongly-marked heads than females, and a slightly longer crest during the breeding season. Both develop a buff colouring to border of feather on their upperparts during winter. Juveniles are similar in appearance to the females; the biggest difference is their crests are shorter.

During flight they are quite easy to spot as they have very rounded black wing tips, and a slow wing beat. When they fly in a large flock this gives a flickering appearance due to the alternating black and white.

Biology

Their diet consists mainly of worms and insects, and they often feed in mixed flocks.

Winter flocks begin to break up in February as the birds return to breeding grounds. Nests are a small scrape on cultivated land or in short vegetation, so the birds have a good view all round to spot predators, and are lined with various plant material. Rough and broken ground is often chosen as a nest site to help with concealment.

Four well-camouflaged eggs are usually laid. The adults defend their nest noisily and aggressively against all comers, even against cattle. Predators can also be lured away from the nest by the adults trailing their wing as if broken.

The young hatch three to four weeks later and are covered in down, they can walk and feed within a few hours. At this point they are susceptible to wet and cold weather which can kill the young.

Once they can walk the adults lead them to areas of low vegetation where there is a plentiful supply of invertebrates, if they have to go a long way to find suitable habitat, the lower the chicks chances of survival are. They need nearby grassland, in particular those containing flood pools and damp patches. The young are ready to fly at five to six weeks old.

Only one brood is raised each year, but there may be up to four attempts if eggs are lost. Birds can live up to 5 years once they reach adulthood.

Threats

Numbers have declined since the middle of the 19th century. Initially this was due to egg collectors, which was then banned and numbers started to recover. In the 1940’s numbers started to decline due to changes in farming practices where grassland was converted to arable land, land was drained, and chemicals introduced. Further intensification in the 1980’s compounded the problem. These changes have resulted in much of the arable land becoming unsuitable for nesting by April because the crop grows too high. The greatest declines have been in southern England.

Conservation

Lapwings are fully protected under the Wildlife and Conservation Act (1981) making it an offence to kill, injure or take an adult, or to damage or destroy an active nest or contents.

Listed as a bird of conservation concern in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).