Northern lapwing

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Northern lapwing
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Charadriidae
Genus: Vanellus
Species: V. vanellus
Binomial name
Vanellus vanellus
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Northern Lapwing.png
Global range     Year-Round Range     Summer Range     Winter Range

Tringa vanellus Linnaeus, 1758

Alarmed in flowery meadow on Texel, the Netherlands

The northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), also known as the peewit or pewit, tuit or tew-it, green plover, or (in the British Isles) just lapwing, is a bird in the lapwing family. It is common through temperate Eurasia.

It is highly migratory over most of its extensive range, wintering further south as far as north Africa, northern India, Pakistan, and parts of China. It migrates mainly by day, often in large flocks. Lowland breeders in westernmost areas of Europe are resident, it occasionally is a vagrant to North America, especially after storms, as in the Canadian sightings after storms in December 1927 and in January 1966.[2]

It is a wader that breeds on cultivated land and other short vegetation habitats. 3–4 eggs are laid in a ground scrape. The nest and young are defended noisily and aggressively against all intruders, up to and including horses and cattle.

In winter, it forms huge flocks on open land, particularly arable land and mud-flats.


The name lapwing has been variously attributed to the "lapping" sound its wings make in flight, from the irregular progress in flight due to its large wings (OED derives this from an Old English word meaning "to totter"),[3] or from its habit of drawing potential predators away from its nest by trailing a wing as if broken. The names peewit, pewit, tuit or tew-it are onomatopaeic and refer to the bird's characteristic call.[4]

The scientific name Vanellus is Medieval Latin for the northern lapwing and derives from vannus a winnowing fan.[5]


The northern lapwing is a 28–33 cm (11–13 in) long bird with a 67–87 cm (26–34 in) wingspan and a body mass of 128–330 g (4.5–11.6 oz).[6] It has rounded wings and a crest, it is also the shortest-legged of the lapwings. It is mainly black and white, but the back is tinted green, the male has a long crest and a black crown, throat and breast contrasting with an otherwise white face. Females and young birds have shorter crests, and have less strongly marked heads, but plumages are otherwise quite similar.

Display calls, Surrey, England

This is a vocal bird in the breeding season, with constant calling as the crazed tumbling display flight is performed by the male, the typical contact call is a loud, shrill "pee-wit" from which they get their other name of peewit.[3] Displaying males usually make a wheezy "pee-wit, wit wit, eeze wit" during their display flight, these birds also make squeaking or mewing sounds.

It feeds primarily on insects and other small invertebrates, this species often feeds in mixed flocks with golden plovers and black-headed gulls, the latter often robbing the two plovers, but providing a degree of protection against predators.

Like the golden plovers, this species prefers to feed at night when there is moonlight.

The northern lapwing is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Population decline[edit]

Chick in the Netherlands
Egg – MHNT

National surveys of England and Wales have shown a population decline between 1987 and 1998[citation needed]. The numbers of this species have been adversely affected by intensive agricultural techniques; in the lowlands this includes the loss of rough grassland, conversion to arable or improved grassland, loss of mixed farms, and switch from spring to autumn sown crops. In the uplands, the losses may have been due to increases in grazing density; in Armenia the population decline and losing of breeding habitats was also documented; the threats are thought to be intensification of the land use and hunting, but further investigations for threat clarification are required.[7]

Natural England gives grant aid to help restore lapwing habitat within its Environmental Stewardship Scheme. The organisation suggests an option within this scheme called 'Fallow plots for ground-nesting birds'. Uncropped plots at least 2 ha (4.9 acres) in size provide nesting habitat and are located in suitable arable fields, which provide additional foraging habitat.

Locating the plots within 2 km (1.2 mi) of extensively grazed grassland will provide additional foraging habitat. The plots are cultivated in the spring to produce a rough fallow, which is retained without the input of fertiliser or pesticides.[8]

In addition to agricultural intensification and land-use change, predation of nests and chicks contributes to wader declines, including of lapwing. By radio-tagging lapwing chicks, and using automatic radio tracking systems, the timing of chick predation can be revealed, which provides additional insights in to the importance of different predators. Lapwing chicks are predated both in the day and at night, with mammalian predators having the greatest impact.[9]

Cultural significance[edit]

Harvesting eggs[edit]

"Plover's eggs" were an expensive delicacy in Victorian Europe, mentioned in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, about aristocratic British society in 1920–40. In the Netherlands, there is a cultural-historical competition to find the first peewit egg of the year (het eerste kievietsei), it is especially popular in the province Friesland, but there are also regional competitions. Gathering peewit eggs is prohibited by the European Union, but Friesland was granted an exception for cultural-historical reasons, the Frisian exception was removed in 2005 by a court, which determined that the Frisian executive councillors had not properly followed procedure.[10][11] As of 2006 looking for peewit eggs is permitted between 1 March and 9 April, though harvesting the eggs is now forbidden; in 2008 the first egg was found on 3 March, in Eemnes, Utrecht,[12] and the first egg of 2009 was found on 8 March.[13] Over the last century, the first peewit egg has been found earlier and earlier in the year, this is ascribed to both increased use of fertiliser and climate change, causing the growth of grass needed for egg laying to occur earlier.[14]


The bird referred to in English translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses, book 6, as lapwing[15] is probably the northern lapwing. Tereus is turned into an epops (6.674); Ovid presumably had the hoopoe in mind, whose crest indicates his royal status and whose long, sharp beak is a symbol of his violent nature.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Vanellus vanellus (amended version of 2016 assessment)". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T22693949A111044786. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22693949A111044786.en.  Downloaded on 15 January 2018.
  2. ^ Godfrey, W. Earl (1986). The Birds of Canada (Revised ed.). National Museum of Natural Sciences. p. 179. ISBN 0-660-10758-9. 
  3. ^ a b "Lapwing". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Peewit". Retrieved 2 February 2018. 
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 397. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4. 
  6. ^ "Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus". oiseaux-birds]. 
  7. ^ "Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus in Armenia". Armenian Bird Census, TSE NGO]. 
  8. ^ "Lapwings thrive on fallow plots". BTO News (269): 17. March–April 2007. 
  9. ^ Mason, L. R.; Smart, J.; Drewitt, A. L. (2018). "Tracking day and night provides insights into the relative importance of different wader chick predators". Ibis. 160 (1): 71–88. doi:10.1111/ibi.12523. 
  10. ^ Walinga, Ruurd (17 March 2005). "Dertig jaar juridische strijd om kievitseieren" [Thirty year legal battle for plover's eggs] (in Dutch). Friesch Dagblad. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  11. ^ Stichting De Faunabescherming and Nederlandse Vereniging tot bescherming van Vogels vs. het college van gedeputeerde staten van Fryslân, LJN: AT0660, Rechtbank Leeuwarden, 03/518 BESLU & 03/547 BESLU (Rechtbank Leeuwarden 16 March 2005).
  12. ^ "Eerste kievitsei van 2008 gevonden" [First plover egg of 2008 found] (in Dutch). Nederlandse Omroep Stichting. 3 March 2008. Archived from the original on 10 March 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  13. ^ "Dutch spring heralded by lapwing egg". Radio Netherlands / Expatica. 8 March 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  14. ^ "Vinddatum eerste kievitsei in Friesland" [Dates of Discovery of the First Plover's Eggs in Friesland] (in Dutch). Milieu & Natuurcompendium. 6 June 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  15. ^ Garth, Sir Samuel; Dryden, John; et al. "'Metamorphoses' by Ovid". 

External links[edit]