Masked Lapwing

A Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) walking by a small dirt divot. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]

Southern subspecies (V. m. novaehollandiae)

A Masked Lapwing (northern subspecies) walking through a low open grassland. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]

Northern subspecies (V. m. miles)

A young Masked Lapwing (northern subspecies) with a blend of young and adult plumage. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]

Young birds

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Scientific Name: Vanellus miles

Size: 33 to 38 cm

What does it look and sound like?

The Masked Lapwing is predominantly white below, with brown wings and back and a black crown. Birds have large yellow wattles covering the face, and are equipped with a thorny spur that projects from the elbow on each wing. The spur is yellow with a black tip. The Masked Lapwing has two subspecies resident in Australia. The southern subspecies has black on the hind neck and sides of breast, and has smaller facial wattles. The sexes are similar in both subspecies, although the male tends to have a larger spur.

Masked Lapwings are large ground-dwelling birds that are closely related to the waders. They are unmistakable in both appearance and voice, which is a loud “kekekekekekekek”.

Young Masked Lapwings are similar to the adult birds, but may have a darker back. The wing spur and facial wattles are also absent, or may be smaller in size.

The Banded Lapwing, V. tricolor, is much smaller (25 to 29 cm). It has a mostly black head and upper breast, with a distinct white eyestripe and bib. It also has a distinctive red patch at the base of the bill.

Where is it found?

The Masked Lapwing is common throughout northern, central and eastern Australia. It is also found in Indonesia, New Guinea and New Zealand. The New Zealand population has been formed from birds that have flown over from Australia.

What are its habitats & habits?

The species inhabits marshes, mudflats, beaches and grasslands. It is often seen in urban areas, but is very wary of people, and seldom allows close approach.

Masked Lapwings feed on insects and their larvae, and earthworms. Most food is obtained from just below the surface of the ground, but some may also be taken above the surface. Birds are normally seen feeding alone, in pairs or in small groups.

Masked Lapwings may breed at any time when conditions are suitable. Both sexes share the building of the nest, which is a simple scrape in the ground away from ground cover. Both also incubate the 3 to 5 eggs and care for the young birds. The young birds are born with a full covering of down and are able to leave the nest and feed themselves a few hours after hatching.

Interesting facts

The Masked Lapwing is notorious for its defence of its nesting site. This is particularly the case after the chicks have hatched. 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.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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