Backyard Buddies
Masked Lapwing (Plover)

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

Masked Lapwing (Plover)

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The Masked Lapwing, also known as a plover, has an eerie call most often heard at night - 'kekekekekekekek'.

Masked Lapwings are large, ground-dwelling birds that near live marshes, mudflats, beaches and grasslands and are often seen in urban areas. It is very common across northern, eastern and southern Australia but does not live in western Australia. There are populations in New Zealand and New Caledonian that have been formed from birds that have flown there from Australia.

Playing fields or grassy parks are one of the lapwing's favourite places to nest, closely followed by a nice flat roof that offers protection from humans and predators. The female will lay up to four eggs in a small depression and then both parents take turns incubating the eggs and keeping an eye out for threats.

Lapwings are easy to identify by their large yellow wattles covering the face, and thorny spur that projects from the wrist on each wing

Lapwings will defend their families from what they see as an attack, even if it happens to be an unassuming passer-by. You might get a bit of a shock if a Masked Lapwing suddenly swoops towards you or makes its loud 'kekekekek' call when you get a bit close. However they will rarely, if ever, actually make contact with you. They are particularly on alert after the chicks have hatched and adults will dive on intruders, or act as though they have a broken wing in an attempt to lure the intruder away from the nest.

The little spurs on their wings are just for show. The lapwing will only swoop when it has eggs or small chicks to look after, which is usually only three weeks at a time. After its chicks have grown up, the lapwing will calm down and stop attacks.

Being the protective parents they are, lapwings will huddle the young chicks underneath them for warmth and protection. The chicks are born with a full covering of down and are able to leave the nest and feed themselves just a few hours after hatching.

The Masked Lapwing also goes by the name Plover, Masked Plover or Spur-winged Plover. The lapwings in the north of Australia also have a slightly different appearance with a more dramatic yellow 'mask' on their face.

The lapwing eats all sorts of insects and worms that live just below the surface of the soil. This can be a big help if you have beetle larvae eating your lawn. Keeping your lawn regularly mown helps the lapwing find the bugs more easily and will encourage them into your garden. But look out for lapwing nests on the ground if you have a big lawn. If they nest where they shouldn't, the best way to deter them is to let the lawn grow long where possible, or mow in the late afternoon or evening when the birds are less likely to be attracted to the feeding frenzy mowing can offer them.

If the conditions are right (warm and moist) these buddies will be able to breed at any time of year, however there is a peak during winter and spring in the south and summer to autumn in the north of Australia. So keep this in mind when you're visiting your local park. It won't be a problem if you just give the protective parents a little bit of space.

Tip

Yes, this buddy can make poor housing choices when it insists on raising a family in the middle of a football field but it's not a good idea to move these nests. Not only could you end up with angry birds pecking you, the lapwing couple are likely to abandon their eggs if moved. The best thing to do is leave the eggs where they are but if they're in a very dangerous spot, you can try placing a chair or protective object over the nest, making sure the parents can still come and go easily.

Did you know?

The Masked Lapwing gets its name from the bright yellow wattles (the fleshy bit of skin that roosters and turkeys also have) on its face and the 'lapping' sound its slow wing beats make.

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Quote

”Birds, bugs, lizards and penguins are my favourite Backyard Buddies – I like to find, watch and learn about what they do and what I can do to help them.“

Gus – 11 year old Backyard Buddy, NSW

Photo: OEH