The Lapwing’s Elegant Form and Dramatic Plumage Captivate Bird Enthusiasts

With glossy green plumage and an extravagant crest, the Lapwing is an eye-catching wader of marsh and pasture.

 

Lapwing

Appearance & Identification

Lapwings are unmistakable waders. Read on to learn more about their size and identifying features.

What do Lapwings look like?

Lapwings are distinctive, long-legged birds with long crests and dark chest bars. Seen from below, Lapwings have bright white underparts that contrast with black flight feathers. They are greenish above and have white rumps visible only in flight.

Standing birds show beautiful glossy green, bronzey plumage on their upper parts, which is most visible in good light. Their underparts are white, but a bold black bar extends around the chest and shoulders. The long, wispy black crest may be held flat in flight. Their short, straight bill is black, and their legs are pinkish.

Male lapwing

Male Lapwing

Female lapwing

Female Lapwing

Female Lapwings are very similar to males but have shorter crests. In the breeding season, females also differ by having more white on the face and throat.

Lapwing chicks can be seen out and about near their parents from the day they hatch. The tiny youngsters are all legs and have mottled brown backs and crowns, with dark chests from an early age. As they mature, juveniles look increasingly like non-breeding adults but have paler breastbands and short crests.

How big are Lapwings?

Lapwings are pigeon-sized waders with stocky bodies and stout legs.

Length

Lapwings measure 28 to 31 centimetres in length. They stand about as tall as they are long.

Weight

Lapwings weigh 128 to 330 grams.

Wingspan

They have a long, broad wingspan of 82 to 87 centimetres.

 

Juvenile Northern Lapwing

Juvenile Northern Lapwing

Calls & Sounds

Alternatively known as the Peewit, Lapwings have a distinctive call.

What sound does a Lapwing make?

Lapwings are vocal birds, particularly in the breeding season when males make impressive display flights while producing a strange, almost robotic call. These birds produce their characteristic ‘pee-wit’ calls when alarmed or to maintain contact.

Diet

Lapwings are insectivorous birds that search for live prey on the ground. Read on to learn more about their diet.

What do Lapwings eat?

Lapwings feed on small invertebrates that live on and in the soil. Earthworms are a significant component of their diet, although they also feed on snails and various insects and their larvae.

What do baby Lapwings eat?

Baby Lapwings are precocial, which means they are well-developed when they hatch and can run and feed themselves on their first day. The downy chicks feed on tiny invertebrates picked from the ground.

Can you feed Lapwings?

Lapwings do not visit bird tables and are better left to forage for themselves. They would likely accept mealworms, although feeding them would be impractical.

 

Lapwing feeding on an earthworm

Lapwing feeding on an earthworm

Habitat & Distribution

Lapwings have rather specific habitat requirements but occur across a wide geographical area. Continue reading to learn where you might spot these showy shorebirds.

What is the habitat of a Lapwing?

Lapwings are birds of open habitats with low grass cover. They prefer unimproved pastures and open wetlands but will use altered landscapes like cereal croplands and recently ploughed and fallow fields.

What is the range of a Lapwing?

Lapwings are widespread in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. They are absent only from parts of Wales, Northwestern England, and Western Scotland.

Elsewhere, Lapwings have an extensive global distribution in the summer that stretches across Asia to Siberia and China. Overwintering birds fly south to the North Coast of Africa, the Middle East, parts of the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia.

 

Lapwings are generally found in open areas with low grass cover

Lapwings are generally found in open areas with low grass cover

Where do Lapwings live?

Lapwings are generally terrestrial, although they may forage in shallow water. These birds do not perch in trees or anywhere above the ground.

How rare are Lapwings?

Lapwings are not rare, although their population has declined steadily since the 1970s, largely due to altered farming practices.

Where can you see Lapwings in the UK?

Lapwings can be seen virtually throughout the UK. Look for them in short pasture and recently ploughed lands, or in open wetlands with low vegetation.

 

Lapwing in flight

Lapwing in flight

Lifespan & Predation

Humans were once one of the Lapwings’ worst predators, although the introduction of the Lapwing Act in 1926 put an end to the rampant egg collection. Continue reading to learn about their lifespan and present-day predators.

How long do Lapwings live?

Lapwings live about four years on average, although they can live for up to 18 years.

What are the predators of Lapwings?

Adult Lapwings have few enemies, although predators like foxes and Marsh Harriers may catch them off-guard. However, these ground-nesting birds are vulnerable to many nest predators, including the fox, stoat, Grey Heron, and Carrion Crow.

Are Lapwings protected?

Lapwings in the United Kingdom are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Are Lapwings endangered?

Lapwings are not endangered, although they are a priority conservation species in the United Kingdom. They are a red-list species of conservation concern due to severe historical population declines.

According to the IUCN, Lapwings are globally classified as Near Threatened because their population is decreasing moderately rapidly.

Lapwing foraging in the soil with prey (female)

Lapwing foraging in the soil with prey (female)

Nesting & Breeding

Lapwings nest from March to July, rearing just a single brood each year. Continue reading to learn more about their breeding biology.

Where do Lapwings nest?

Lapwings nest in suitable habitats across much of the UK. They choose open areas of rough pasture or spring crops where they can see predators from a distance. These ground-nesting birds construct a simple scrape and line it with plant material.

What do Lapwing eggs look like?

Lapwings eggs have excellent camouflage. They have a light brown ground colour and are heavily marked in black. These birds usually lay four eggs per clutch, each measuring about 47 millimetres long and 34 millimetres wide.

Do Lapwings mate for life?

Lapwings are usually seasonally monogamous, which means pairs remain together in the nesting season but find a new partner each year. However, males may have up to four different partners in a single season.

Lapwing nest and eggs

Lapwing nest with four unhatched eggs

Lapwing with chicks

Female Lapwing looking after her young chicks

Behaviour

Lapwings display some fascinating behaviours. Males, in particular, put on quite a show when performing their death-defying display flights between March and May.

Are Lapwings aggressive?

Lapwings can act highly aggressively toward people and livestock in the nesting season. They will start by calling excitedly and flying around in an agitated state. They will also hold their wings open in threat display and attempt to drive away anyone approaching their ground nest.

Where do Lapwings sleep at night?

Lapwings roost in open grassland and fields. These birds do not have a regular day/night sleep cycle and may become completely nocturnal in favourable conditions.

 

Two male Northern Lapwings fighting

Two male Northern Lapwings fighting

Migration

Lapwings are highly migratory in parts of their global range, although this is not exactly true of the UK population.

Do Lapwings migrate?

Lapwings are partial migrants in the United Kingdom. Many remain near their breeding grounds throughout the year, while others migrate locally or cross the English Channel to Southern Europe.

Some Lapwings visit parts of Southwestern England and Wales in the winter only, and some birds visit Northeastern Scotland each year in the nesting season. Tens of thousands of birds may arrive from Continental Europe to escape harsh winters.

A large flock of Lapwings in flight

A large flock of Lapwings in flight

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