Sociable Lapwing

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Common Name: Socialable Lapwing or Plover
Scientific Name: Vanellus gregarius

Size: 10.5-12 inches (27-30cm)

Habitat: Eurasia; It breeds on open grassland in Russia and Kazakhstan. These birds migrate south through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, to key wintering sites in Israel, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and north-west India. Birds winter occasionally in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Oman. This lapwing is a very rare vagrant in western and northern Europe, where this gregarious bird is usually found with Northern Lapwings.

Prefers grassland steppes where bare saline areas occur near water-bodies. It may be found also in dry wasteland, cultivated, ploughed and stubble fields.

Status: Critically Endangered. Global Population: 11,000 Mature individuals with a declining trend. Key factors explaining the magnitude of declines remain poorly understood, despite much recent research. On the breeding grounds, it was probably formerly threatened by the conversion of steppe to arable cultivation, plus, perhaps less likely, the reduction in grazing by large herds of native ungulates and, latterly, by the loss of the enormous herds of domestic grazing animals from state-sponsored collective farms. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, large areas of arable cultivation have been abandoned and are reverting to natural steppe habitat, herds of domestic livestock have become concentrated around villages (where their permanent presence leads to shorter swards than were created by the vast herds that grazed semi-nomadically under the Soviet system), while an increase in fires (owing to reduced control of fires) may also have contributed to an increase in suitable habitat. These factors may be behind the possible increase in numbers (at least in parts of Kazakhstan) in recent years. Concentration of nests in heavily grazed areas in the vicinity of villages may have increased threats from human disturbance and trampling by sheep, goats and possibly other livestock. Illegal hunting during migration and on the wintering grounds may now be the primary threat. The species may be affected by the increasingly dry climate in its breeding and wintering range, but it is not clear if this benefits or threatens this semi-desert species.

Diet: Insects (including Orthoptera, Coleoptera, and moth larvae) and other small prey mainly from grassland or agricultural areas.

Breeding: Summer adults have grey backs and breast, dark belly and white undertail. The head has a striking pattern, with a black crown and eyestripe, the latter being bordered above and below with white. The upper neck is ochre. Its longish black legs, white tail with a black terminal band and distinctive brown, white and grey wings make it almost unmistakable in flight. Winter adults have a less distinct head pattern, slightly browner back and breast, and white belly. Young birds have a scaly back, and only vestiges of the head pattern.

It breeds semi-colonially in small groups of 3-20 pairs from mid-April until July, and begins the migration south in August or September (occasionally as late as October). Flocks of several thousand birds have been known to gather before migration in Siberia and Kazakhstan, but migration itself usually occurs in small groups of 15-20 birds. In Syria, it arrives yearly around mid-February to late March, and again in autumn. It arrives on its wintering grounds in India and Pakistan by September-October and in Sudan by late October. Small flocks of similar size to those observed on migration are usual on the wintering grounds, although very occasionally larger flocks of over 100 birds have been recorded. It departs the wintering grounds in March or early April, arriving on its breeding range from mid April.

It breeds mainly in the transition zones between Stipa and Artemisia grassland steppes where bare saline areas occur near water-bodies. It uses dry wasteland, cultivated, ploughed and stubble fields. Nests are preferentially placed in areas of Artemisia where there is high dung abundance and vegetation is short.

The nest is a scrape that is unlined or lined with plant material, pebbles and debris. It is usually found on bare saline patches or in short vegetation near to water. Three to five eggs are laid. Nest survival during the egg stage varies between years, owing to varying levels of predation by fox (Vulpes vulpes), polecat, long-eared hedgehog and souslik species, and trampling by cattle, and in particular, sheep and goats.

Cool Facts: An international species action plan was published in 2004. It is legally protected in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, but this is generally not enforced. An intensive research project at the breeding sites in central Kazakhstan has been running since 2004, and includes surveys in north and east Kazakhstan. A survey of historical breeding sites in the South Urals was conducted in 2005 and another at passage sites in south-west Russia was carried out in 2006. Coordinated counts were undertaken at key passage/wintering sites in Syria and Turkey in March 2007. Satellite-tags have been placed on birds in central Kazahstan, one of which was tracked to Turkey in October 2007.

The call is a harsh “kereck”.

Found in Songbird ReMix Threatened, Endangered, Extinct 3

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