Vanellus vanellusnorthern lapwing

Geographic Range

Northern lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) are migrant birds that are found throughout the northern Palearctic region (Galbraith, 1988; Musters et al., 2010). They range throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, northern Africa, China, Mongolia, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and most of Russia (Birdlife International, 2012). Summer migration begins in late May when breeding season is over. Autumn migration occurs September through November and more juveniles leave their natal areas during this period. Migration distances can be 3000 to 4000 km (Cramp and Simmons, 1983). (Birdlife International, 2012; Cramp and Simmons, 1983; Galbraith, 1988; Musters, et al., 2010)


Northern lapwings are primarily agricultural and farmland waders (Galbraith, 1988). Breeding populations prefer wet grasslands, meadows, and short swards whereas the non-breeding populations use open pastures, damp grasslands, irrigated land, riverbanks and other such habitats for roosting ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2012). Nests are built in short wards of grass (less than 10 cm) with little to no tussocks, of highly productive agricultural lands, thus grazing by cattle is important for habitat quality to allow nest construction (Durant et al., 2008). Easy and ready access to moist (preferred) soil with a good biomass of surface and/or subsurface organisms is required (Sheldon et al., 2004). (Birdlife International, 2012; Galbraith, 1988; Sheldon, et al., 2004)

  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • taiga
  • Range elevation
    200 to 1000 m
    656.17 to 3280.84 ft
  • Average elevation
    400 m
    1312.34 ft

Physical Description

Northern lapwings are large, semi-colonial plovers (Elliot, 1985). Their flanks and belly are white, leading into cinnamon tinted under-tail coverts. Plumage is black from the breast up through the crown. A distinctive wispy, long crest extends from the back of the crown. The remainder of the head is white and gray, and a horizontal black stripe is showcased under each eye. The iridescent greenish-purple wings are long, broad and rounded. The first three primary feathers are white-tipped. Females in breeding plumage do not have as sharp of face markings as males and also have a shorter crest. They look very much like males in non-breeding plumage. Juveniles have an even shorter head crest that is brown, and their overall plumage is duller than an adult's. Northern lapwings average a wingspan of 82 to 87 cm (Cramp and Simmons, 1983). (Cramp and Simmons, 1983; Elliot, 1985)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    128 to 330 g
    4.51 to 11.63 oz
  • Range length
    28 to 31 cm
    11.02 to 12.20 in
  • Range wingspan
    82 to 87 m
    269.03 to 285.43 ft


Northern lapwings breed from April to July in solitary pairs ("The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2012). Females are sexually mature and begin breeding at one year old. Pair-bonds of lapwings often are individuals of the same age (Parish et al., 2001). Breeding grounds include habitats such as arable land, pastures and moors, and wetlands (Johansson and Blomqvist, 1996). Lapwings return to their breeding grounds as early as January, usually within 50 km of their natal area (not necessarily the exact area of the previous year) (Cramp and Simmons, 1983). (Birdlife International, 2012; Cramp and Simmons, 1983; Johansson and Blomqvist, 1996; Parish, et al., 2001)

Usually only one clutch of four eggs is laid. However, because eggs are commonly destroyed by predators before the clutch is complete, the female will lay the remaining eggs and incubate a partial clutch (Galbraith, 1988). One egg is laid every one and a half days and incubated for around 25 days. Complete replacement clutches are also common (Parish et al., 2001). (Galbraith, 1988; Parish, et al., 2001)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from April to July.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 28 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years

Chicks are most commonly cared for by both parents. In some cases, one parent deserts the nest before chicks have fledged (Liker and Szekely, 1999). Just after hatching, lapwings abandon their nests to rear their offspring at a different site where the precocial young can feed by themselves (Johansson and Blomqvist, 1996). Females spend more time incubating and tending to offspring, whereas males typically defend the nest, though each sex exhibits the opposite task in some instances (Liker and Szekely, 1999). (Johansson and Blomqvist, 1996; Liker and Szekely, 1999)


The average lifespan is three and a half years old (Parish et al., 2001). (Parish, et al., 2001)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3.5 years


Northern lapwings are precocial, ground-nesting shorebirds (Liker and Szekely, 1999). Females show three types of aggressive behavior towards female intruders due to competition for male parental care. The first is an aggressive run towards the intruder exhibited by a retracted neck, ruffled breast feathers, and an erect chest. When face to face with the intruder female, there is a performance of crouching and displays. The second and most common behavior is a series of ground attacks including pecking, hitting, or kicking. The third is an aerial, diving attack towards the intruder (Liker and Szekely, 1997). Males do not seem to exhibit these behaviors. (Liker and Szekely, 1997)

Home Range

Home range sizes are not reported in the literature.

Communication and Perception

Northern lapwings communicate using song-flights. The song-flight unit is a definite sequence of flight types combined with a song-sequence. Lapwings may exhibit songs (territorial calls), contact-alarm calls; birds call out with they're leaving their nest (typically in chorus), alarm-threat calls; a bird on the ground detects possible danger, all-clear calls; the young are re-grouped after hiding, mating calls which may be accompanied by a hunched-run, scraping or approach flight from the male, and distraction calls; indicate extreme danger and usually accompanied by a deception display towards the threat (Cramp and Simmons, 1983). Song-flights begin just before sunrise and are typically short and incomplete. Within an hour, they begin to last for one hour and then fade. They occur again around noon and around sunset (Dabelsteen, 1978). (Cramp and Simmons, 1983; Dabelsteen, 1978)

Food Habits

As primarily diurnal feeders, northern lapwings prefer sugar beet stubbles, but worms, invertebrates, small fish, and seeds/other plant material are also a large part of their diet (Sheldon et al., 2004)(Cramp and Simmons, 1983). Earthworms and leatherjackets are especially important sources for chicks, as they meet energy needs and are easy to find (Galbraith, 1988). Pastures provide the greatest earthworm densities and arable lands provide the fewest opportunities for foraging (Sheldon et al., 2004). (Cramp and Simmons, 1983; Galbraith, 1988; Sheldon, et al., 2004)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Diurnal avians such as carrion crows (Corvus corone), great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus), stoats (Mustela erminea), and herring gulls (Larus argentatus) are primary predators of lapwings eggs. Nocturnal, terrestrial predators include red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and domestic cats (Felis catus). Nests are defended communally against these predators using active anti-predator responses (Galbraith, 1988). Diving and striking with the feet are tactics used against avian predators, whereas tactics like distraction and false leading are used against terrestrial predators. Both sexes used the leading strategy, but only males have shown to use the distraction displays. Lapwing adults make short dashes beyond the nest and use ground pecks to lead the predator past the nest. They also flap their wings to attack attention while exposing their bright tail and black and white plumage (Elliot, 1985). (Elliot, 1985; Galbraith, 1988)

Ecosystem Roles

No information was found pertaining to the northern lapwing's importance to the ecosystem. They are an endangered prey species. They may influence the populations of invertebrates locally as they prey on them.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern lapwings are hunted commercially to be used as a food source as well as a recreational activity in Iran, France, Italy, Greece, and Spain (BirdLife International, 2013). ("BirdLife International", 2013)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No information was found pertaining to the negative economic importance of lapwings.

Conservation Status

Populations have declined in the past due to overuse of land, wetland drainage, and egg collection. Presently, breeding productivity is threatened by intense agricultural practices of grasslands and wetlands. Migratory habitats for this species are also threatened on the Baltic Sea coastline due to petroleum pollution, irritation, shrub overgrowth via land management changes as well as land abandonment. Spring cultivation is known to destroy clutches on arable fields and nest predation can be a problem when new mammals are introduced (BirdLife International, 2013). Actions are being taken to mitigate these causes of decline. The restoration and re-creation of wet grassland by re-introducing water to the land is one of the primary focuses management is taking (Eglington et al., 2010). ("BirdLife International", 2013; Eglington, et al., 2010)


Mariah Beaman (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


2013. "BirdLife International" (On-line). Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). Accessed January 27, 2013 at

Birdlife International, 2012. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2 Vanellus vanellus." (On-line). Accessed January 27, 2013 at

Bouglouan, N. 2013. "Northern Lapwing" (On-line). Accessed May 02, 2013 at

Cramp, S., K. Simmons. 1983. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Aftica: the birds of the Western Palearctic. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dabelsteen, T. 1978. An analysis of the song-flight of the lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) with respect to causation, evolution and adaptations to signal function.. Behaviour, 66: 136-178.

Eglington, S., M. Bolton, M. Smart, W. Sutherland, A. Watkinson, J. Gill. 2010. Managing water levels on wet grasslands to improve foraging conditions for breeding northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47: 451-458.

Elliot, R. 1985. The effects of predation risk and group size on the anti-predator response of nesting lapwings Vanellus vanellus. Bahaviour, 92: 168-187.

Galbraith, H. 1988. Effects of agriculture on the breeding ecology of lapwings Vanellus vanellus. Journal of Applied Ecology, 25: 487-503.

Johansson, O., D. Blomqvist. 1996. Habitat selection and diet of lapwing Vanellus vanellus chicks on coastal farmland of S.W. Sweden. Journal of Applied Ecology, 33: 1030-1040.

Liker, A., A. Szekely. 1997. Aggression among female lapwings, Vanellus vanellus. Animal Behaviour, 54: 797-802.

Liker, A., A. Szekely. 1999. Parental bahaviour in the lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Ibis, 141: 608-614.

Musters, C., W. ter Keurs, G. de Snoo. 2010. Timing of the breeding season of black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa and northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus in the Netherlands. Ardea, 98: 195-202.

Parish, D., P. Thompson, J. Couson. 2001. Effects of age, cohort and individual on breeding performance in the lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Ibis, 143: 288-295.

Sheldon, R., M. Bolton, S. Gillings, A. Wilson. 2004. Conservation management of lapwing Vanellus vanellus on lowland arable farmland in the UK. Ibis, 146: 41-49.