Which British bird Required a UK Law to Stop it Being Eaten as a Countryside Delicacy and its Eggs taken for Cooking?
I am a lapwing, also known as a “peewit” because of my distinctive call.
Unfortunately, the lapwing has become a casualty of changing British farming practices that have caused loss of habitat and a reduced food supply due to less rotational farming, new tillage and drainage practices and the application of pesticides. In response, some farmers and bird organizations are now protecting these birds’ breeding sites and monitoring their population on the “red list” of United Kingdom endangered species.
Currently there are around 150,000 breeding pairs in the UK, a decline in some parts of Britain of up to 80% since the 1960s. The March arrival of the lapwing in the lowland fields is seen by country folk as symbolic of the end of winter and a return of the greenery in hedgerows and on trees. Lapwings are common during summer throughout Euro-Siberia, and winter as far south as North Africa, Pakistan, north India and parts of China.
We lapwings belong to the plover family and in some places are called “green plovers”. There are lots of regional nicknames like flopwing and flapjack (reference to how we fly) and hornpie (a reference to our long crest). Technically we are waders but breed on cultivated land or in other short vegetation habitats. You see us all-the-year round, but because we are highly migratory, in autumn and winter our numbers swell to over 600,000 when we are joined by relatives from northern Europe. Winter time is often spent in large black and white flocks on pastures and ploughed fields near estuaries, rivers, bays and wetlands.
You can identify us by our pigeon-like size (about 30cm/12 inches in length), our black and white plumage, a glossy green back, a wispy crest on our head and rounded paddle-shaped wings used for flight.
The word lapwing is possibly derived from the old English term that means “to totter”. This describes our response to potential predators that come too close to our nests. We will approach the aggressor and drag a wing along the ground as if it is broken. Alternatively, we may dive-bomb and mob the intruder and screech out our peewit call. Another possible source for its name is the “lapping” noise made by our wings during flight.
My lapwing partner lays her eggs – usually three or four – in an open field, using a scrape on the ground, following our tumbling aerial courtship. We prefer bare ground or short vegetation for the nest, often in wet meadows, and arable and pasture land nearby where we can feed on insects, grubs of the daddy longlegs and earthworms. Breeding takes place between mid-March and July.
Don’t look for us in North America. The continent is not within our breeding range and we are only sighted as a very rare vagrant, usually as a result of unusual weather patterns.
While you may sympathize with our current predicament, this is not the first time we have been persecuted and survived the challenge. In the good old days, our eggs were stolen as a countryside delicacy and we were killed and eaten. Fortunately these practices largely ended in 1926 with the passage of the UK Protection of Lapwings Act that made it unlawful to kill or take lapwings during the breeding season, offer one for human consumption or willfully disturb a nest or take eggs, other than in the ordinary course of farming and forestry. World War 11 did not help when our eggs were collected and turned into powder for use as egg rations.