White-tailed lapwing (Vanellus leucurus)

White-tailed lapwing foraging in dead grass
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White-tailed lapwing fact file

White-tailed lapwing description

GenusVanellus (1)

The white-tailed lapwing (Vanellus leucurus) is a graceful bird that is characterised by its unusually long, bright yellow legs, which are so long that they extend beyond the tail feathers during flight. The white-tailed lapwing has a relatively long, dark bill, and when on the ground, its plumage looks quite drab, with a grey chest and a pinkish-brown head and back. However, when the white-tailed lapwing takes off it reveals its striking black-and-white wing pattern and its all-white tail, for which it is named (3).

A white-tailed lapwing hatchling has greyish upperparts with black streaks, and a rusty-red ring around the eye. The juvenile has a mottled, grey-brown neck and breast, and dark-centred feathers on its upperparts. There is no seasonal variation in the colouring of the adults (2).

Also known as
white-tailed plover.
Chettusia leucura.
Vanneau à queue blanche.
Length: 26 - 29 cm (2)
Wingspan: 67 - 70 cm (2)
99 - 198 g (2)

White-tailed lapwing biology

The white-tailed lapwing usually occurs in flocks of 6 to 25 individuals during winter and in much smaller flocks during migration. It feeds on a range of small invertebrates, such as worms and molluscs, as well as on a variety of insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers. It also occasionally takes small vertebrates (2) (4) (5). Using its long legs to wade through the water, the white-tailed lapwing picks its prey from on or just below the water’s surface (4). Unusually, the white-tailed lapwing also swims when foraging, and is one of only two species in its family to regularly put its head underwater when searching for food (5). It will also find food on dry ground (3).

 A seasonal and monogamous breeder, the white-tailed lapwing rears its young in loose colonies of 4 to 24 pairs, although one such colony was found to consist of up to 100 pairs (5). The breeding season occurs from April to May. Nest sites include dried rice paddies, vegetated marshes and overgrown islets. The nest of the white-tailed lapwing is formed from a shallow depression in open ground with an occasional vegetation lining and has a mud structure around the edge which is thought to protect against flooding (6)

The white-tailed lapwing usually has a clutch of 4 eggs, which are incubated for 21 to 24 days. Once the chicks hatch, they are cared for by both adults (2). Lapwing species are known to be particularly aggressive around the nest, calling loudly and swooping down on any intruders to protect their brood (5).


White-tailed lapwing range

The white-tailed lapwing has a very large range. Some populations in the Middle East remain there year-round. However, in central Asia the white-tailed lapwing is fully migratory, moving from its breeding grounds in Russia between mid-July and September to spend the winter in locations ranging from north-east Africa, through the Middle East all the way to northern India. There have even been sightings of the white-tailed lapwing in the UK (4).

After winter has passed, the white-tailed lapwing returns to Russia to breed in mid-April to May (4).


White-tailed lapwing habitat

The white-tailed lapwing is never far from fresh or salt water, where it forages for food. It can be found near a wide variety of aquatic environments, from salt marshes and river banks to flooded fields and coastal lagoons, although it will nest in areas with more vegetation (4).

This species prefers shallow standing or slow-moving water, but can wade through deeper water than many other lapwing species due to its long legs (4).


White-tailed lapwing status

The white-tailed lapwing is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


White-tailed lapwing threats

The white-tailed lapwing has an extensive range and is not currently considered at risk of extinction. Its population trend is uncertain, as some populations are increasing and some are decreasing, but the European breeding population is extremely small and could be susceptible to the risks affecting small populations (4).

The main threat to the white-tailed lapwing is the loss of suitable habitat through drainage and wetland destruction in its core breeding and wintering sites. For example, the wetlands of Mesopotamiain Iraq were subject to significant destruction in the 1990s (4). Another significant threat to the white-tailed lapwing is likely to be farming intensification which results in changes to its habitat and therefore a decline in suitable breeding grounds (7) (8).

In recent years there have been more and more sightings of white-tailed lapwings in the UK and the rest of Western Europe, which may suggest that a lack of suitable wintering sites is causing the birds to move further afield (3).


White-tailed lapwing conservation

There are no known specific conservation measures currently in place for the white-tailed lapwing (4). However, conservation efforts are taking place in wetland habitats that are key to the white-tailed lapwing’s survival. After the ecological devastation in Iraq that occurred in the 1990s under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the wetlands in Mesopotamia, one of the white-tailed lapwing’s main breeding and wintering sites, were left desiccated (9). This was the result of many activities, including channelisation, damming, water withdrawals, salinisation (an accumulation of salts) from agriculture, oil production activities and drainage (10). However, ecological restoration began in 2002 and water has now been released back into the marshes. Fortunately, thousands of birds have been recorded returning to the marshes as a result of these efforts (4) (9).

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View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following: a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
An animal with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Dean, A.R., Fortey, J.E. and Phillips, E.G. (1977) White-tailed plover: new to Britain and Ireland. British Birds, 70: 11.
  4. Birdlife International (July, 2011)
  5. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Gooders, J. (1969) Birds of the World. Vol. 3. IPC, London.
  7. Beintema, A.J., Dunn, E. and Stroud, D. (1997) Birds and wet grasslands. In: Pain, D.J.and Pienkowski, M.D. (Eds) Farming and Birds in Europe: the Common Agricultural Policy and its Implications for Bird Conservation. Academic Press, San Diego.
  8. Vickery, J.A., Tallowin, J.R., Feber, R.E., Asteraki, E.J., Atkinson, P.W., Fuller, R.J. and Brown, V.K. (2001) The management of lowland neutral grasslands in Britain: effects of agricultural practices on birds and their food resources. Journal of Applied Ecology, 38: 647-664 .
  9. Mesopotamian Marsh Restoration (July, 2011)
  10. WWF – Mesopotamian Delta and Marshes (July, 2011)

Image credit

White-tailed lapwing foraging in dead grass  
White-tailed lapwing foraging in dead grass

© Richard Brooks / www.flpa-images.co.uk

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