Watching for lapwing

© Darin Smith

Lapwing, green plover, peewit, tewit – this bird of many names is a spectacular sight in winter.

You don’t always have to go far to spot lapwings, as in winter their numbers increase in Britain as birds flock in from the colder continent. You can see them on farmland and grassy areas in wetland sites (like estuaries, lakes and reservoirs) at this time of year, roosting balanced on one leg with their heads tucked away or feeding on invertebrates.

The flight of lapwings is unusual and can be described as ‘floppy’. Their large, rounded wings move slowly, feathers spread and showing flashes of the white feathers underneath; the slow wingbeats can make them appear to float and is very recognisable feature of the lapwing. Springtime flocks dart and zigzag, these amazing aerial displays confuse predators as their flight and mixed colouring make each bird hard to focus on.

At first glance their plumage may look dark and dull but look a little closer or watch it catch the light and you will see the iridescent sheen of greens and purples. Both males and females have a crest on their heads, although the male’s is longer and showier. 

Their other names of peewit and tewit relate to their call. Lapwings often call as they fly, the calls can sound a little robotic. Around 140,000 pairs breed in the UK, some will remain here over winter but many more arrive as their numbers more than quadruple in the winter. As they are not breeding it is a good time to look for lapwing on the coast. They may be joined in their flocks by other wading birds or starlings, taking off together as dusk settles to find a safe place to roost.

Unfortunately, these fascinating birds are declining, and they are now red listed by the RSPB. Changes in farmland practises has been a big factor in their decline as nests fail and food is increasingly scarce. Like other plover species, lapwing next on the ground, meaning their eggs and chicks are particularly vulnerable to predation and disturbance. There are some positive trends however. On nature reserves and other sites that are managed for wildlife there has been recent increases in lapwing populations, as more pairs manage to successfully raise chicks. It is hoped that with careful management of the land they may once again become a common bird of our countryside.