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Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles

Masked Lapwing
Photo copyright Dave Watts
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 seasonal differences.



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 Lapwing Distribution Map courtesy Natural Values Atlas, data from theLIST © 2010 State of Tasmania


Masked lapwings are widespread throughout Tasmania, mainland Australia, southern New Guinea and the Moluccas.

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.

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.