Just another Euroa intersection, but look carefully ...
Just another Euroa intersection, but look carefully …

There, on the far corner, sitting in the grass, see them? A pair of Masked Lapwings (Vanellus miles), aka the Spur-winged Plover. These are conspicuous birds at home in rural and urban habitats. They are strong fliers and tend to be quite territorial, especially during the breeding season (around now).

Being shorebirds and related to waders, it’s perhaps not surprising they nest on the ground. But wouldn’t the eggs and flightless chicks be ‘sitting ducks’ for any predator, bird, mammal, or even reptile that comes along? (I hear you thinking)

It’s a reasonable question, as many ground-nesting bird species in Victoria have become scarce and are now threatened with extinction. Studies of the breeding success of Masked Lapwings have found that ravens, foxes, dogs, even snakes can predate eggs and chicks. In grazing paddocks sheep have been known to inadvertently trample eggs, though this is the least problem for our town birds.

Click to enlarge and view as a slide show.

And the chicks are just so cute … and vulnerable!

Source: Benjamint444 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spur-Winged-Plover-chick.jpg

So how is it that Masked Lapwings manage to survive, even in car-parks and alongside busy roads, when so may other ground-nesting bird species are disappearing? Well, there are those spurs, but it’s a good question (in fact it’s several questions wrapped in one) and without many adequate answers. And the same questions apply to another of those ground-nesting wader-types, the Bush Stone-curlew, though for curlews in Victoria, finding the answers to those questions is a little more pressing.

  • Are the parents/adult birds at risk of predation and by what?
  • Is it the eggs, or the chicks that are most vulnerable to being eaten?
  • What role does camouflage (visual & olfactory/scent) play in eluding predators?
  • Or is it about food availability for the young chicks which rely on regular feeding?

It may be that this pair hasn’t bred successfully for some years as the young from previous years (and here, absent) often stay with the parents to form a family group. Or, it may be that last years young have gone their own way and left Mum and Dad to start over. Being long-lived birds (perhaps 15-20 years in the wild), adults don’t need to successfully raise too many chicks to replace themselves, but it also means we may be looking at an aging population that could suddenly crash. With a bit of luck, whatever strategy they use to survive, Masked Lapwings will successfully negotiate this cross-road for a while yet.