Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Lapwing portrait
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Lapwing fact file

Lapwing description

GenusVanellus (1)

The lapwing is a familiar wader of open farmland (4). It has a striking appearance, with its black and white plumage, iridescent green and purple back and wispy crest (2). In flight they can be recognised by their rounded wing tips and slow wing beats. When flying, the dense flocks have a flickering appearance brought about by the alternating white then black of the flapping wings (2). This effect may have given rise to the common name of this species, which derives from the Old English word hleapewince, which means ‘leap with a flicker in it’ (6). Males and females are generally similar in appearance, but the male has a longer crest in summer. During winter, both sexes develop a buff-coloured border to the feathers of the upperparts. Juveniles have similar plumage to adults in winter, but they can be identified by their shorter, stumpy crests (2). The characteristic shrill call has given rise to the imitative local name ‘peewit’ (6).

Also known as
green plover, peewit.
Vanneau huppé.
Length: 28-31 cm (2)
Wingspan: 67-72 (2)
140-320 g (3)

Lapwing biology

The lapwing is a gregarious species that forms large flocks between June and March (8). They feed on worms and a variety of invertebrates on or close to the surface of the soil (4). They are subject to food stealing by black headed gulls (Larus ridibundus); by feeding mainly at night, however, lapwings are able to minimise this threat (8). Nocturnal feeding increases around the time of the full moon, when these birds tend to roost during the day (5).

During February, males begin to perform display flights over breeding territories in which they climb steeply upwards before tumbling down close to the ground (9). Between March and early July, three or four well-camouflaged eggs are laid in a scrape on the ground (4) (9). Incubation of the eggs takes between 26 and 28 days (3) and the chicks are able to run shortly after hatching (6). If the nest is threatened, lapwings will mob predators (4) and try to distract them away from the young, which lie flat against the ground (9).


Lapwing range

The lapwing has undergone a massive decline in numbers in the last 20 years (4), with a 49% reduction between 1987 and 1998 (7). It is found throughout Britain, but avoids high ground, with the highest numbers occurring in central and southern Britain (8). Many British lapwings are resident (they stay in this country throughout the year) but many birds migrate to Britain from Germany, Scandinavia, Denmark and Holland during winter (5). Globally, lapwings have a wide distribution, being found throughout Europe, reaching east to the Pacific coast of Russia (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Lapwing habitat

Inhabits open farmland and shows a strong preference for mixed farms that have large areas of arable land or grassland as well as unimproved grassland. They can also be found on winter stubbles, fallow fields, wet grassland, marshes and pasture (4) (3). During the breeding season, the lapwing needs sites with a combination of tilled ground and grassland rich in invertebrates, which are fed to the young (4).


Lapwing status

Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (3). Classified as a bird of conservation concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, but not a priority species (4). Receives general protection in the UK under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (5).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Lapwing threats

The decline of this once common bird was due to changes in land use, in particular the decline in mixed farming and the resulting loss of the former patchwork of arable and grassland areas (4). Furthermore, other agricultural changes have affected this species, including the use of fertilisers, denser production of crops, sowing seeds in autumn and winter and the increase in silage production (4).


Lapwing conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at this species as yet. Ten percent of the British population presently occurs on sites that are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The species is monitored well at wetland sites, but the majority of the population on agricultural land is not sufficiently monitored. This is a key issue that is being addressed at present; good monitoring of populations allows conservationists to track the well-being of populations and can indicate when and where conservation action is needed (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

For more on British birds see the RSPB website:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

You can see the lapwing by visiting the Rye and Winchelsea, East Sussex:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January2004):
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB A-Z of Birds: Lapwing (February 2004):
  4. Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership- Lapwing (February 2004):
  5. JNCC Lapwing- SPA suite (February 2004):
  6. Greenoak, F (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. British Trust for Ornithology- Breeding birds in the wider countryside- lapwing (February 2004):
  8. Lack. P. (1986) The Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A D Poyser Ltd, London.
  9. Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.

Image credit

Lapwing portrait  
Lapwing portrait

© Laurie Campbell /

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