Lap­wing known by many other names

Stockport Times West - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

IT makes a nice change to write about good news in the bird world and the promis­ing re­sults of a five-year project aimed at help­ing lap­wings, the ‘farmer’s friend’ is just that.

More than 250 farm sites were cho­sen to test mea­sures de­signed to help the lap­wing, which has de­clined in the UK by almost 50 per cent.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists are thrilled that lap­wings have had a suc­cess­ful 2014 breed­ing sea­son in grass­land habi­tats man­aged by the RSPB.

Lap­wings be­long to a group of birds known as waders: typ­i­cally lon­g­legged birds which gen­er­ally feed at the wa­ter’s edge or in wet grass­land. This year, many of the RSPB’s sites were able to an­nounce lap­wing breed­ing suc­cesses, thanks to land man­age­ment based on knowl­edge built up over decades across RSPB na­ture re­serves, in low­land. Lap­wings are pri­mar­ily farm­land birds and only a frac­tion of the UK’s lap­wing pop­u­la­tion breed on na­ture re­serves. That means the work of farm­ers is cru­cial, as is en­sur­ing that im­prove­ments to farm­land do not af­fect farm in­come. Find­ing ways of en­abling farm­ers to man­age habi­tats bet­ter is a key part of the project.

The lap­wing has more ver­nac­u­lar names than any other bird, rang­ing from ‘tieves’ nacket’ in Shet­land to ‘pie-wipe’ in Nor­folk. It also has places and pubs named after it.

The bird is men­tioned by Chaucer and Shake­speare and even Mrs Bee­ton, and is called the farmer’s friend be­cause it eats in­sects re­garded as farm pests.

Lap­wing eggs were once widely sought for con­sump­tion and in the 1820s, one per­son col­lected more than 1,900 from the Nor­folk marshes. The 1926 Lap­wing Act sig­nif­i­cantly re­stricted egg gath­er­ing although ref­er­ence to the use of lap­wing eggs – de­scribed as ‘much es­teemed’ – re­mained in the 1861 book, Mrs Bee­ton’s House­hold Man­age­ment.

Col­lected lap­wing eggs were bought by the Min­istry of Food in the Sec­ond World War and turned into dried egg pow­der to form part of the egg ra­tion.

It is slightly larger but more slen­der and el­e­gant than a pi­geon, with dis­tinc­tive black, white and bot­tle-green colour­ing and a three­inch black crest.

The name lap­wing is thought to have sprung ei­ther from two An­gloSaxon words, one mean­ing to leap and the other to reel; or the Old English word ‘hleapewince’, from ‘hlea­pan’ – to leap, and wince – to tot­ter, wa­ver, move rapidly.

The lat­ter may be a ref­er­ence to the lap­wing’s ir­reg­u­lar flap­ping flight, or the way in which par­ent birds flap their wings on the ground to feign in­jury to dis­tract preda­tors.

The Greek name for the bird was ‘poly­plagk­tos’ which means lur­ing on de­ceit­fully. This is a di­rect ref­er­ence to the bird’s abil­ity to feign in­jury to lure preda­tors away from their young.

The col­lec­tive term for lap­wings is a de­ceit – a per­haps un­just con­dem­na­tion of the bird’s at­tempts to pro­tect its eggs and young.

The lap­wing’s haunt­ing ‘pee­wit’ cry has given rise to a num­ber of names other than pee­wit, in­clud­ing ‘peasiewheep’ – east Scot­land – and ‘che­wit’ – Lan­cashire. It is also known as green plover, ‘tu­e­fit’ – County Durham, ‘top­pyup’ – Bor­ders, ‘lap­pinch’ – Cheshire, ‘flop­wing’ – from its flight – and ‘horn­pie’ – from its crest.

Places named after lap­wings in­clude Te­wit­field near Lan­caster, Tivet­shall St Mary near Diss in Nor­folk and Pyewipe near Grimsby. Pubs named after the bird in­clude the Pee­wit in Bed­ford­shire and Pyewipe in Lin­colnshire.

The lap­wing’s tum­bling courtship dis­play is un­mis­tak­able and is seen most of­ten over the wet mead­ows of farms and na­ture re­serves. Last win­ter many read­ers re­ported huge num­bers of lap­wings cir­cling over su­per­mar­kets across the re­gion.

Sue Tran­ter,

The lap­wing is known by many names

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