The Masked Lapwing, also commonly known
simply as “plover”, is a conspicuous bird with loud,
penetrating calls. It is a bold animal that swoops at intruders - including humans. Its
apt scientific name - miles
- comes from the Latin for soldier and
refers to the spurs on the wings, which give an armed appearance.
The Masked Lapwing is a medium-sized, ground-dwelling bird to 380 mm. It is mainly white below, with
brown wings and back and a black crown and nape separated from the mantle by
a white collar, yellow bill and a distinctive, bright yellow wattle
that reaches well behind the eye and hangs down beside the chin. Each wing bears a
long and sharp wing spur. The sexes are alike and there are no
Masked Lapwings 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. Any fluctuations in numbers are usually due to
fluctuations in availability of wetlands.
Masked Lapwings feed on insects and their larvae, and earthworms. Most
food is obtained from just below the surface of the ground, but some
may also be taken above the surface. Birds are normally seen feeding
alone, in pairs or in small groups.
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. Young leave the nest almost immediately after hatching, and
some young leave before all eggs have hatched. The young are guarded by both
parents when small and may scatter over as much as 200 m if
disturbed, with each adult guarding the chicks closest 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. Many families stay together after the
young can fly. Birds can breed in their first year.
Masked Lapwings have a rapid "kerk, kerk, kerk, kerk" call. They are noisy at dusk, or when alarmed by
potential intruders. They can often be heard calling at night.
(Audio recordings courtesy of David Stewart/Nature Sound
Masked lapwings are widespread throughout Tasmania, mainland
Australia, southern New Guinea and the Moluccas.
Why Birds Swoop
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.
See the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment web site
for information on what to do when Masked Lapwings swoop.
Please remember, 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.