LAPWING (O.Eng. hleápewince = “one who turns about in running or flight”), a bird, the Tringa vanellus of Linnaeus and the Vanellus vulgaris or V. cristatus of modern ornithologists. In the temperate parts of the Old World this species is perhaps the most abundant of the plovers, Charadriidae, breeding in almost every suitable place from Ireland to Japan—the majority migrating towards winter to southern countries, as the Punjab, Egypt and Barbary—though in the British Islands some are always found at that season. As a straggler it has occurred within the Arctic Circle (as on the Varanger Fjord in Norway), as well as in Iceland and even Greenland; while it not unfrequently appears in Madeira and the Azores. Conspicuous as the strongly contrasted colours of its plumage and its very peculiar flight make it, it is remarkable that it maintains its ground when so many of its allies have been almost exterminated, for the lapwing is the object perhaps of greater persecution than any other European bird that is not a plunderer. Its eggs are the well-known “plovers’ eggs” of commerce, and the bird, wary and wild at other times of the year, in the breeding-season becomes easily approachable, and is shot to be sold in the markets for “golden plover.” Its growing scarcity in Great Britain was very perceptible until the various acts for the protection of wild birds were passed. It is now abundant and is of service both for the market and to agriculture. What seems to be the secret of the lapwing holding its position is the adaptability of its nature to various kinds of localities. It will find sustenance equally on the driest of soils as on the fattest pastures; upland and fen, arable and moorland, are alike to it, provided only the ground be open enough. The wailing cry and the frantic gestures of the cock bird in the breeding-season will tell any passer-by that a nest or brood is near; but, unless he knows how to look for it, nothing save mere chance will enable him to find it. The nest is a slight hollow in the ground, wonderfully inconspicuous even when deepened, as is usually the case, by incubation, and the black-spotted olive eggs (four in number) are almost invisible to the careless or untrained eye. The young when first hatched are clothed with mottled down, so as closely to resemble a stone, and to be overlooked as they squat motionless on the approach of danger. At a distance the plumage of the adult appears to be white and black in about equal proportions, the latter predominating above; but on closer examination nearly all the seeming black is found to be a bottle-green gleaming with purple and copper; the tail-coverts, both above and below, are of a bright bay colour, seldom visible in flight. The crest consists of six or eight narrow and elongated feathers, turned slightly upwards at the end, and is usually carried in a horizontal position, extending in the cock beyond the middle of the back; but it is capable of being erected so as to become nearly vertical. Frequenting parts of the open country so very divergent in character, and as remarkable for the peculiarity of its flight as for that of its cry, the lapwing is far more often observed in nearly all parts of the British Islands than any other of the group Limicolae. The peculiarity of its flight seems due to the wide and rounded wings it possesses, the steady and ordinarily somewhat slow flapping of which impels the body at each stroke with a manifest though easy jerk. Yet on occasion, as when performing its migrations, or even its almost daily transits from one feeding-ground to another, and still more when being pursued by a falcon, the speed with which it moves through the air is very considerable. On the ground this bird runs nimbly, and is nearly always engaged in searching for its food, which is wholly animal.
Allied to the lapwing are several forms that have been placed by ornithologists in the genera Hoplopterus, Chettusia, Lobivanellus, Defilippia. In some of them the hind toe, which has already ceased to have any function in the lapwing, is wholly wanting. In others the wings are armed with a tubercle or even a sharp spur on the carpus. Few have any occipital crest, but several have the face ornamented by the outgrowth of a fleshy lobe or lobes. With the exception of North America, they are found in most parts of the world, but perhaps the greater number in Africa. Europe has three species—Hoplopterus spinosus, the spur-winged plover, and Chettusia gregaria and C. leucura; but the first and last are only stragglers from Africa and Asia. (A. N.)
- Skeat, Etym. Dict. (1898), s.v. Caxton in 1481 has “lapwynches” (Reynard the Fox, cap. 27). The first part of the word is from hleápan, to leap; the second part is “wink” (O.H.G. winchan, Ger. wanken, to waver). Popular etymology has given the word its present form, as if it meant “wing-flapper,” from “lap,” a fold or flap of a garment.
- There is a prevalent belief that many of the eggs sold as “plovers’” are those of rooks, but no notion can be more absurd, since the appearance of the two is wholly unlike. Those of the redshank, of the golden plover (to a small extent), and enormous numbers of those of the black-headed gull, and in certain places of some of the terns are, however, sold as lapwings’, having a certain similarity of shell to the latter, and a difference of flavour only to be detected by a fine palate.
- This sounds like pee-weet, with some variety of intonation. Hence the names peewit, peaseweep and teuchit, commonly applied in some parts of Britain to this bird—though the first is that by which one of the smaller gulls, Larus ridibundus (see Gull), is known in the districts it frequents. In Sweden Vipa, in Germany Kiebitz, in Holland Kiewiet, and in France Dixhuit, are names of the lapwing, given to it from its usual cry. Other English names are green plover and hornpie—the latter from its long hornlike crest and pied plumage. The lapwing’s conspicuous crest seems to have been the cause of a common blunder among English writers of the middle ages, who translated the Latin word Upupa, property hoopoe, by lapwing, as being the crested bird with which they were best acquainted. In like manner other writers of the same or an earlier period latinized lapwing by Egrettides (plural), and rendered that again into English as egrets—the tuft of feathers misleading them also. The word Vanellus is from vannus, the fan used for winnowing corn, and refers to the audible beating of the bird’s wings.