Masked Lapwing (Spur-winged Plover) - Vanellus Miles

Masked Lapwing
copyright: Hans and Annie Wapstra

Protection Status

Masked lapwings are fully protected under the Nature Conservation Act 2002 and Wildlife Regulations 1999. Any interference with the bird, nest or eggs is not permitted.

Description

The masked lapwing, also commonly known simply as "plover" is a medium-sized conspicuous bird with loud, penetrating calls. It is a bold bird that swoops at intruders and its apt scientific name of miles comes from the Latin for soldier and refers to the spurs, which give an armed appearance.

The sexes are alike and there are no seasonal differences. Features that distinguish the masked lapwing from other plovers are its black crown and nape separated from the mantle by a white collar; white underparts; yellow bill; bright yellow wattle that reaches well behind the eye and hangs down beside the chin; and a long and sharp wing spur.

Distribution

Masked lapwings are widespread throughout Australia, southern New Guinea, the Moluccas with a subspecies, novaehollandiae, in New Zealand. They occupy a wide variety of natural and modified habitats, usually near water. In urban areas they frequently occur on roadside verges, playing fields, parks airstrips, golf courses and almost anywhere there is some greenery and water. Adult birds remain in the general area from year to year and chicks rarely move more than 10 km from the nest site. In north-west Tasmania, a resident white bird was observed for many years in a paddock by a main highway. Any fluctuations in numbers are usually due to fluctuations in availability of wetlands.

Breeding

Copyright: Hans and Annie Wapstra
Lapwing nest
Breeding occurs in late winter-to early spring. Birds pair for life and take up territories in May-July with successful breeding occupying 9-11 months. This period includes building the nest, incubation, brooding and caring for the young and defending the territory against intruders of own and other species.

In Tasmania, only 35% of nests are used in subsequent years. Between 3-4 eggs are laid at an interval of 24 hours, occasionally at least 48 hours for the last egg in a clutch. The incubation period is 28-30 days but addled eggs have been incubated for 55-62 days. Young leave the nest almost immediately after hatching, and some young leave before all eggs have hatched. They are guarded by both parents when small and the young may scatter over as much as 200 m if disturbed, with each adult guarding the chicks closet to it. The young follow parents but find their own food. Young usually fledge at 6-7 weeks but may vary from 5-8 weeks. Young are independent at about 8-10 months at an average of 40 weeks. Many families stay together after the young can fly. Birds can breed in their first year.

Why Birds Swoop

  • Masked lapwings swoop because they are defending eggs or young that are not capable of defending themselves from potential predators such as humans and dogs. How long the defence is maintained is very variable.
  • Some pairs defend large mobile territories around chicks rather than the nest. Such attacks will usually cease after the eggs hatch and chicks are mobile.
  • Most swooping behaviour is to threaten or bluff to warn off intruders. Contact is rarely made.
  • Always bear in mind that these birds are only rightly defending what is theirs and following their instincts, just as humans would.

What To Do

1.If the problem is minor or only occasional or does not threaten your lifestyle or business, consider tolerating it as it is a small price to pay to have wildlife around;
2.Avoid the birds while the swooping occurs by choosing a different route;
3.Travel in a group. Most birds only swoop individuals;
4.Wear a hat;
5.Hold or wave a stick or flag above your head. A supply of decorated sticks with flags on can be stocked where, for example, schoolchildren have to cross swoop-prone open spaces;
6.Cyclists should always dismount and walk through the swoop-zone.


Do Not

1.Stare at the birds when being swooped. This may deter them, but it can also result in eye damage. It should not be attempted without wearing eye protection;
2.Panic or run. It may encourage lapwings to continue to attack;
3.Search for the nest or young;
4.Do not remove eggs or destroy nests as birds will re-lay or re-nest;
5.Harass, interfere or throw objects at the birds.

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