The Masked Lapwing is May's Bird of the Month.
Vanellus miles novaehollandia
The Masked Lapwing is a medium sized wader, in the same family as Dotterals and Plovers. These relatives are pond dwellers, whereas the Masked Lapwing prefers grassy fields. It is often called the Spur-winged Plover because of the sharp yellow spurs that protrude from its wings.
The Masked Lapwing is mainly brown above and white below, with a black cap and a mask of large yellow wattles running from its forehead, behind the eyes and hanging down beside the yellow bill. The subspecies found in the Parklands (novaehollandiae) has a black mantle across the back of the neck and down the sides of the breast. The formidable yellow spur, on the curve of the wing by the breast, is not always visible, and is used mainly for the defense of nests and chicks.
The Lapwing’s call is a loud repetitive “Kekekeke”, often heard at night as a contact call as they fly. They also make an alarm call in defense of a nest site if approached.
Masked Lapwings are found from Indonesia and New Guinea, down through central and eastern Australia. The subspecies novaehollandiae, also found in the Parklands is limited to eastern and southern Australia, with a population now established in New Zealand.
Short-grassed habitats usually near wetlands are where Masked Lapwings are most often seen feeding, often in pairs, and at times in small groups, or individually. They also take insects, grubs, spiders and worms with the grass, or just below the surface. Parklands and playing fields are ideal feeding grounds, and regular mowing ensures that their prey is always accessible.
The Masked Lapwing is well known for its particular nesting habits. The breeding season runs through winter to spring, with both adults choosing a small patch of open ground, often on a lawn or playing field, or even the flat roof of a building. The nest site may have a scattering of dry grasses and rootlets around it. The female lays three to four eggs on an exposed patch of grassy ground. In urban areas, this leads to a significant loss of eggs from domestic pets and human disturbance. The lawnmower is possibly the greatest enemy of the Masked Lapwing.
To protect the nest, Masked Lapwings have developed aggressive behaviour. With the approach of a potential threat to the nesting territory, the adults will become extremely noisy, moving away from the nest to attract attention to themselves, sometimes feigning injury. When this fails as a deterrent, they begin swooping attacks, although they rarely actually strike with their spur, particularly against human targets. To avoid damage to their wings the Masked Lapwing generally only uses the spur against other birds or small predators on the ground.
Both sexes share in incubation for about a month until the chicks are hatched with a camouflage covering of downy feathers, and within hours they are able to leave the nest and begin foraging for themselves. The parents continue their protective attacks, but the chicks are now able to move and hide in the protection of longer grass. Attacks become less often as the chicks develop, reaching full growth at about five months. Young Lapwings may stay with the adults for one or two years, making small family groups.
In the Park:
Masked Lapwings are found throughout the Parklands, and outside the breeding season are quite used to having people around, although they will not allow them to approach too closely.
During the breeding season it is best to give these birds a wide berth, as they are on high alert for any potential threat, including humans.
Photo Credit: Tony Spira