1902 Encyclopedia > Lapwing


LAPWING, Anglo-Saxon Illelpewince ( " one who turns about in running or flight," see Skeat's almost every suitable place from Ireland to Japan, - the majority migrating towards winter to southern countries, as the Punjab, Egypt, and Barbary, - though in the British Islands some are always found at that season, chiefly about estuaries. As a straggler it has occurred within the Arctic Circle (as on the Varanger Fjord in Norway), as well as in Iceland and even Greenland ; while it not unfrequently appears in Madeira and the Azores. Conspicuous as the strongly contrasted colours of its plumage and its very peculiar flight make it, one may well wonder at its success in maintaining its ground when so many of its allies have been almost exterminated, for the Lapwing is the object perhaps of greater persecution than any other European bird that is not a plunderer. Its eggs - the well known "Plovers' Eggs" of commerce "2 - are taken by the thousand or ten thousand; and, worse than this, the bird, wary and wild at other times of the year, in the breeding-season becomes easily approachable, and is (or used to be) shot down in enormous numbers to be sold in the markets for " Golden Plover." Its growing scarcity as a species was consequently in Great Britain very perceptible until an Act of Parliament (35 & 36 Vict. cap. 78) frightened people into letting it alone,3 and its numbers have since then as perceptibly increased, to the manifest advantage of many classes of the community - those who would eat its eggs, those who would eat its flesh (at the right time of year), as well as the agriculturists whose lands it frequented, for it is admitted on all hands that no bird is more completely the farmer's friend. What seems to be the secret of the Lapwing holding its position in spite of slaughter and rapine is the adaptability of its nature to various kinds of localities. It will find sustenance for itself and its progeny equally on the driest soils as on the fattest pastures; upland and fen, arable and moorland, are alike to it, provided only the ground be open enough. The wailing cry4 and the frantic gestures of the cock bird in the breeding-season will tell any passer-by that a nest or brood is near ; but, unless he knows how to look for it, nothing save mere chance will enable him to find it. Yet by practice those who are acquainted with the bird's habits will accurately mark the spot whence the hen silently rises from her treasure, and, disregarding the behaviour of the cock, which is intended to delude the intruder, will walk straight to one nest after another as though they knew beforehand the exact position of each. The nest is a slight hollow in the ground, wonderfully inconspicuous even when deepened, as is usually the case, by incubation, and the black-spotted olive This measure was really insufficient to afford it, or any other bird, proper protection, but the British public. seldom read Acts of Parliament critically, and, hearing that one had been passed for the Preservation of Wild Birds, in which the Lapwing was specially named, most persons desisted from persecuting this species, not in the least knowing that the utmost penalty they could incur by killing it in the close-season would be but eggs (four in number) are almost invisible to the careless or untrained eye unless it should happen to glance directly upon them. The young when first hatched are clothed with mottled down so as closely to resemble a stone and to be overlooked as they squat motionless on the approach of danger. At a distance the plumage of the adult appears to be white and black in about equal proportions, the latter predominating above ; but on closer examination nearly all the seeming black is found to be a bottle-green gleaming with purple and copper ; and the tail-coverts, both above and below, are seen to be of a bright bay colour that is seldom visible in flight. The crest consists of six or eight narrow and elongated feathers, turned slightly upwards at the end, and is usually carried in a horizontal position, extending in the cock beyond the middle of the back ; but it is capable of being erected so as to become nearly vertical. Frequenting (as has been said) parts of the open country so very divergent in character, and as remarkable for the peculiarity of its flight as for that of its cry, the Lapwing is far more often observed in nearly all parts of the British Islands than any other of the group, Limicolx, to which it belongs. The peculiarity of its flight seems due to the wide and rounded wings it possesses, the steady and ordinarily somewhat slow flapping of which impels the body at each stroke with a manifest though easy jerk. Yet on occasion, as when performing its migrations, or even its almost daily transits from one feeding-ground to another, and still more when being pursued by a Falcon, the speed with which it moves through the air is very considerable ; and the passage of a flock of Lapwings, twinkling aloft or in the distance, as the dark and light surfaces of the plumage are alternately presented, is always an agreeable spectacle to those who love a landscape enlivened by its wild creatures. On the ground this bird runs nimbly, and is nearly always engaged in searching for its food, which is wholly animal.

Allied to the Lapwing are several forms that have been placed by ornithologists in the genera Hoplopterus, Chettusia, Loin' va2tellus, Sareiophorus, and so forth ; but the respective degree of affinity they bear to one another is not rightly understood, and space would prohibit any attempt at here expressing it. In some of them the hind toe, which has already ceased to have any function in the Lapwing, is wholly wanting. In others the wings are armed with a tubercle or even a sharp spur on the carpus. Few have any occipital crest, but several have the face ornamented by the outgrowth of a fleshy lobe or lobes. With the exception of North America, they are found in most parts of the world, but perhaps the greater number in Africa. Europe has three species - Hoploptervs spinosus, the Spur-winged Plover, and Chettusia gregaria and C. leueura ; but the first and last are only stragglers from Africa and Asia. (A. N.)

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