Masked lapwing (Vanellus miles)

Masked lapwing – southern subspecies – note the black banding and small face wattle

Masked lapwings are well known for scaring the living daylights out of almost everyone that approaches their ground based nest or young chicks.

With a loud call, aggressive displays and swooping behaviour that shows the spurs on their wings, they are a fearsome sight. Few people are ever struck by the birds and their spurs, but they do inflict serious damage on other birds, in particular crows.

In our region Masked lapwings are better known by their informal name Spur-winged plovers. There are two distinct sub-species of Masked lapwings; the southern sub-species which we get here and the northern sub-species, more commonly known as the Masked plover. The northern sub-species has a greater yellow wattle on its face, whereas ours displays more black plumage behind the head, neck and breast.

Masked lapwing – northern subspecies – parent and chick – note the large face wattle and lack of black banding
Northern subspecies chick

Their preference for cleared areas has allowed them to spread their range quite effectively and they are a common sight throughout parklands, gardens, nature strips and school yards. They like to inhabit areas close to water and then forage outwards from there. They prefer to breed when there is rain, and so breed in the winter months in the south, and spring and summer months in the north.

Southern subspecies chick – note advance development typical of precocial chick

As they are largely ground based their eggs and chicks are extremely well camouflaged and their chicks are precocial, that means they are born relatively well developed and are ready to leave the nest and follow their parents immediately. This, along with the aggressive behaviour of the parents, is an adaptation to a hard and threatening life. Only about one in seven Masked lapwing chicks survive into adulthood. So next time a Masked lapwing swoops you spare a thought for it – your chances of survival are much higher than its chicks!

For some photos of these wonderful birds in action have a look at my blog or the Bird Bites Facebook and Youtube channels.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald 13th of November 2023