Spring lapwing in the Avon Valley

Two Male Lapwing DisplayingBy Lizzie Grayshon, Waders for Real Project Ecologist

As the days get longer and we start to see signs of spring, one thing many of us look forward to hearing is the ‘pee-wit’ call of the lapwing. The lapwing is an iconic British bird distinctive not just by its call, but also by its rounded wing shape in flight and great crest when on the ground.

I, along with many others, find the breeding strategy of the lapwing extremely interesting as they breed on both water meadows where wet features are favoured and on bare patches of arable land where ditches and pools are nowhere to be seen.

In the Avon Valley the large flocks that over-winter here begin to break up and many birds leave the Valley towards the end of March. This winter we have seen flocks of up to 1000 birds strong feeding on the flooded water meadows. These are a spectacle to watch as they move as one through the sky.

Many of these birds will not breed in the Avon Valley but head off to arable land across the UK. However, some birds will stay and as of March the males begin to set up their breeding territories on the water meadows with the hope of attracting a female.

A male lapwing is not shy when it comes to showing off a territory, his calls can be heard from many fields away and his acrobatic flight skills are exciting to watch. He will create many small scrapes on the ground and display these to prospective females by bobbing his tail up and down.

A Typical Lapwing Nest With Four EggsOnce a female has selected a scrape to use she will then line it with a layer of dead grass. She will lay one egg a day until four eggs have been laid, then begin incubating.

A lapwing nest is very neat, each piece of grass is placed carefully in the scrape before the eggs are laid. The four eggs are positioned with the ends all pointing inwards, the female will carefully turn the eggs over during incubation that lasts for around 25 days.

Depending on the length of the grass, lapwings can either be quite obvious or completely hidden when sitting on a nest. When nesting on water meadows you are normally only able to see the head and the tail pointing out above the grass. The male is often standing guard nearby looking out for any danger.

A Female Lapwing Incubating Her NestOnce nesting begins the lapwings face a number of potential difficulties, one of which is predation. Once the nesting process has begun the lapwing pair will chase off any potential avian predators which fly close to the nest, including Corvids and Raptors.

Lapwing often nest in small colonies with several pairs nesting close together, which is extremely useful when it comes to deterring predators as they can work together to chase them off.

A Female Lapwing Incubating Her NestThe red arrows show two female lapwing nesting within 20 meters of each other.

Another potential threat is the rise in water level, so many lapwing will nest on a slightly raised area which will hopefully provide some protection from rising water levels.

Nest On Raised Ground

We always try to cause as little disturbance as possible when nest finding, once a female is spotted on the nest we take our time to pin point the exact location before approaching. This allows us to find the nest very quickly and take the necessary measurements without causing any harm. All nest monitoring is done under strict licence and by trained individuals.



at 10:07 on 07/04/2016 by martin hodgson

lapwings are successful in many cases at leading predators away with the broken wing trick, as they have led me away.. The fox or other must not hide and wait for the bird to eventually return to the nest .I have not actually witnessed this yet but one day might be lucky

re: Lapwing studies

at 9:39 on 07/04/2016 by Lizzie - GWCT

Dear Barrie, Thank you for your comment. I would agree that nest disturbance seems to be an increasing problem for most ground-nesting birds on sites with public access. The majority of the sites on which we work in the Avon Valley are privately owned, but there is still occasional disturbance by dogs and their owners who are off footpaths. There is emerging evidence in the literature for other ground-nesters, such as nightjar, of reduced nesting success close to footpaths. As for predation of lapwing nests, our data, and those from studies on RSPB reserves and in the Netherlands, strongly suggest that nocturnal predators are responsible for, on average, about 70% of clutch losses. In most cases temperature loggers rather than cameras have been used to study nest predation, so it is difficult to separate fox and badger predation, but signs at predated nests in the Avon valley in recent years indicate that the fox is the main culprit, with an increased incidence of badger predation in dry springs. The effect of livestock rates in the Avon Valley is interesting: our impression is that sites favoured by the lapwing often have light livestock grazing for the most of the spring. However, we aim to examine the effect of stocking rate and type of livestock on breeding success as the project progresses. Certainly there is evidence for high rates of nest trampling at high stocking densities. Best wishes, Lizzie

re: Your breeding lapwing article

at 9:37 on 07/04/2016 by Lizzie - GWCT

Thank you for your comments and the invitation to Elmley NNR: it would be really great to come for a visit, as I have heard a lot of good things about the reserve! I am very much aware of the predation pressure that lapwing face during the breading season. Unfortunately the structure of the Avon Valley (a long, narrow corridor compared to the more open aspect of Elmley and other reserves) facilitates a large number of predators. We are working closely with the farmers and gamekeepers to try to reduce predation pressure on nests and chicks as far as possible, using a variety of methods. However, it would be good to learn from your experience. Best wishes, Lizzie

Lapwing studies

at 18:18 on 05/04/2016 by Barrie Noble

Lizzie hello, Thanks for an excellent and most interesting article. I am concerned that undisturbed nesting sites are increasingly difficult to find often due to ranging dogs and other carnivores. Do you have any evidence of dogs, foxes and increasing badger populations being a limiting factor. I know that increased livestock stocking rates can inhibit the success of ground nesting birds. Would welcome your thoughts on these factors in relations to waders, larks etc kind regards, Barrie Noble

Lizzie's article

at 17:52 on 05/04/2016 by Philip Merricks

For anyone who may be interested in having a look at the breeding wader management at Elmley, Philip Merricks' email address is philip.merricks@gmail.com

Your breeding lapwing article

at 12:30 on 05/04/2016 by Philip Merricks

Hello Lizzie. - I have just read your article which was most interesting. Good luck with your project. But please, please don't be naive in thinking when writing that "the lapwing pair will chase off any avian predators". Sadly lapwing, even in large colonies of pairs, don't stand a chance of doing this during the vulnerable period of the month whilst their eggs take to hatch and the next period of a month before they fledge. There is no way that lapwing can now do this. When this observation of lapwing "chasing off predators" first entered into the conservation literature, it was probably true at a time many years ago when there there were large numbers breeding lapwing and and few predators. Now there is a very different and reversed situation with many predators and few breeding lapwing. So please get real if you care about ensuring that your lapwing fledge a biologically relevant number of chicks in order to maintain your lapwing population in the Avon Valley. As you will know, breeding lapwing need to fledge approx 0.7 chicks per breeding pair per year to maintain a stable population. Most breeding wader sites just don't achieve this which means that they are sink populations. For example, some time ago, when RSPB scientists monitored 25 breeding wader sites, only two of these sites were producing the biologically viable 0.7 fledged chicks. If you would like to come and have a look at our Elmley Estate and National Nature Reserve which is on the North Kent marshes, we would be very pleased to show you round. Independent and experienced field workers have monitored well over 2000 breeding pairs of lapwing at Elmley over the last six years which I am really pleased to say have fledged total numbers of chicks well over the necessary 0.7 magic number . Many of your GWCT colleagues have been to Elmley during the breeding season but not I think you. So the offer is there for you. As it is for any other reader of this comment and your blog. Hence I would be very pleased to show anyone around Elmley who has an interest in breeding waders and much other wildlife. Just get in touch with me. Kind regards and best of luck for the coming season, Philip Merricks

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