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Looking for Lapwings with Alice Marlow

Join Opticron Ambassador Alice Marlow in her search for Lapwings - are they Britain's most underrated bird?

Northern Lapwing are a bird dressed to impress. The males fashion a tux-like black and white breast which sweeps up across the face into a splendid crest draped over their head. An iridescent shimmer of pink and green flashes across the wing, concealing a beautiful orange buff on their rump. The females, more discrete in their black colouring, are masters of disguise and can easily vanish into a grass tussock whilst sitting on a nest. Only their white heads and shorter crests are occasionally visible, floating above the sward. In flight their paddle-shaped wings and crazed tumbling display make them instantly recognisable. But it’s their bizarre, almost electronic-sounding call, more befitting of Mars than Earth, which makes them so unique. As I sit watching them twist and turn in a swirling display and listen to their peewit calls each day, I can’t help but think of them as one of Britain’s most underrated birds.

Aside from their highly impressive attire and alien vocal range, these birds are outstanding parents. Between March and May, the female lays a single clutch of 2-5 eggs in a scrape, delicately lined with dry vegetation. Their speckled brown eggs are almost invisible on a grassy field. The males guard incubating females and mob any predator which ventures too close. Crows, jackdaw, gulls, egrets and herons are often mobbed by both parents, and for good reason… Lapwing chicks are precocial, which means they leave the nest soon after hatching. This makes them particularly vulnerable to predation. Once hatched, the parents keep a close eye on the tiny fluff-ball chicks as they feed together in the grass.

For the last month I have been working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), finding nests and radio tagging chicks to determine the causes of low productivity on a reserve in North Wales.

Lapwing used to breed commonly over much of lowland Britain and, for many, their peewit calls are a familiar sign of spring, but changes in land management and increased predation pressure have contributed to a continuous decline in their population since the mid-1980s. Hopefully, work being carried out by organisations, including the RSPB, to restore wetlands, hay meadows and encourage farmers to better manage their land for wildlife will help curb the decline of this wonderful species so it is once again a common sight and sound across the British countryside.

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