Lapwing known by many other names
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.
The lapwing is known by many names