Plovers and chicks

plover standing on leaf litter
Plover or Masked Lapwing

I grew up in Victoria knowing this species as ‘plovers’ or ‘Spur-winged Plovers’ and many people here in North Queensland still call them that but the officially preferred name for them is now ‘Masked Lapwing’ so I use both. At least they only have one Latin name: Vanellus miles.

Whatever we call them, they are common and distinctive inhabitants of Townsville, living in every scrap of open grassland from big traffic islands up to parks, river banks, sports grounds and (I’m sure but haven’t checked) airports. They nest in vestigial, nearly invisible scrapes in the middle of ‘their’ space and defend the nest and chicks vigorously, swooping and screeching at anyone who comes too close.

Plover or Masked Lapwing
Half-grown plover with adult in background

I came across a family last weekend in the parkland near Aplin’s Weir, Mundingburra. The chicks, like the young of many other birds, begin life in camouflage colours and shift to adult coloration as they moult. This one is nearly there: the main areas of colour are distinct but both the black cap and the grey-brown back are still mottled. Ian Montgomery has a couple of absurdly cute images of younger chicks on Birdway. (I can’t help wondering whether he still has the scars of the parents’ attacks.)

But what about the plover/lapwing question? It turns out that the family, Charadriidae (Wikipedia) consists of Lapwings, Plovers and Dotterels, most of which are small to medium-sized, round-headed, short-billed waders; many of them are nomadic. Their next-closest relations are all smallish shore birds: oystercatchers, stilts, avocets, sandpipers, etc.

The Masked Lapwing is the largest of the Charadriidae and is more often seen away from the water than most of the others. ‘Plover’ is the common name for all of the Charadriidae while ‘Lapwing’ is the usual name for all Vanellus species overseas, so both are correct. This entertaining post from another blogger has a bit to say about names. It even explains the ‘spur-winged’, which I’m not going to tackle because they do it so well.

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