Masked lapwing

The masked lapwing is a protected species in the Northern Territory (NT). 

You should not interfere with these birds without a permit. Read more about wildlife permits.

There are two distinct races of the lapwing:

  • the masked lapwing of Northern Australia, which has a white neck and large yellow wattles - the male has a distinctive mask and larger wattles
  • the spur-winged plover of the southern and eastern states which has a black neck-stripe and smaller wattles.

The masked lapwing can be found widely across the northern half of Australia. 

They prefer to live in open areas with short grass, often besides water, but are adaptable and can be found in arid areas. 

They can also be found on beaches and coastlines where they are usually in flocks.

Breeding

Masked lapwings are usually found in pairs or small family groups during the breeding season between November and June, and may be in flocks at other times.

Some masked lapwings, especially those in residential areas, never breed because of disturbances such as those caused by people and vehicles. 

When they do breed they usually nest in a small depression in the ground, laying three to four eggs that take about 28 days to hatch. 

They hatch as precocial chicks covered by downy feathers with long thin legs. 

They are able to feed themselves and only need a little encouragement from their parents, who place insects in front of the chicks.

The chicks reach their full height of around 35cm after four to five months. 

They often stay with the parents for one to two years.

Parents protect their young by squawking loudly to attract the attention of potential predators and running in opposite directions to where the young are. 

Sometimes they will drop one wing down to make it look like they are injured and an easy catch for a predator.

Feeding

Masked lapwings spend most of their time on the ground searching for food such as insects and worms, but will occasionally take seeds and greens or small fish and crustaceans from the edge of creeks and waterways.

Spending so much time on the ground they are always alert and even though they rest they never sleep properly.

Swooping

Masked lapwings are known for their bold nesting habits. 

They will make a nest on almost any stretch of open ground, including suburban parks and gardens, school ovals or even supermarket car parks. 

The nesting pair will defend their territory by calling loudly, spreading their wings and then swooping fast and low.

The most vicious attacks are usually on other birds, cats and dogs.

To avoid swooping you should do all of the following:

  • be aware the breeding season is from November to June and swooping should stop after chicks are two or three months old
  • wear a hat or headgear
  • carry a stick or umbrella - you do not need to wave the stick unless you are attacked
  • put a flag on the back of your bicycle
  • avoid the area
  • do not panic and run it will only encourage a bird to keep swooping
  • put up warning signs for others who may not be aware there are swooping birds in the area
  • travel in a group - birds will generally only attack individuals
  • make the habitat unsuitable for breeding by allowing the grass to grow long or by planting shrubs.

Last updated: 27 June 2017