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A photo of a Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)
Southern Lapwing

Southern Lapwing

Vanellus chilensis

The Southern Lapwing, known scientifically as Vanellus chilensis, is a distinctive wader, easily recognized by its striking appearance and behavior. It is the only crested wader found in South America, measuring between 32 to 38 cm in length and weighing approximately 250 to 425 grams. The plumage is primarily brownish-grey with a bronze sheen on the shoulders. The head is adorned with a grey crest, a black forehead, and a throat patch that extends onto a black breast, sharply contrasted by a white border. The underparts are white, while the eye ring, legs, and most of the bill exhibit a pink hue. Notably, this bird is armed with red bony spurs under its wings, which are used in defense and territorial disputes.

Identification Tips

When observing the Southern Lapwing in flight, one can note the broad white wing bar that distinguishes the grey-brown back and wing coverts from the black flight feathers. The rump is white, and the tail is black. The loud and harsh "keek-keek-keek" call is a helpful identifier. Subspecies may show slight variations in head coloration and vocalizations.

Habitat

This lapwing favors habitats such as lake and river banks or open grasslands, and has adapted well to the expansion of grasslands due to cattle ranching.

Distribution

The Southern Lapwing is a common and widespread resident throughout South America, with its range extending from the basin of the Río de la Plata to Central America. It has been observed as far north as Trinidad and Tobago and even Barbados.

Behaviour

The Southern Lapwing is known for its cooperative breeding behavior, with social groups often consisting of a breeding pair and one or two young from the previous season. It is a bold defender of its territory, confronting intruders with vocalizations and low flights. Outside the breeding season, it disperses into wetlands and seasonally-flooded tropical grasslands.

Song & Calls

Its call is a defining characteristic, a very loud and harsh "keek-keek-keek" that can be heard over considerable distances.

Breeding

The Southern Lapwing breeds on grassland and sometimes ploughed fields, engaging in an aerobatic display flight. It lays 2-3 olive-brown eggs, occasionally four, in a bare ground scrape. The nest and young are fiercely defended against all intruders.

Diet and Feeding

Its diet consists mainly of insects, such as grasshoppers, other small invertebrates like earthworms and cutworms, and occasionally small fish. It employs a run-and-wait technique for hunting, primarily at night, and is often seen feeding in flocks.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the Southern Lapwing as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its survival at present.

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Southern Lapwing Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Southern Lapwing is the national bird of Uruguay

Southern Lapwings on Birda

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