Lapwings at sunset

Breeding and nesting habits

The winter flocks begin to break up in February, when the birds will start to return to their breeding grounds.

Nesting habits

The lapwing has a spectacular songflight. The male wobbles, zigzags, rolls and dives while calling to advertise his presence to rival males and potential mates. The birds tend to nest in loose groups. Individual territories are small about 0.4-0.8 ha and are only held until the chicks hatch.

In the breeding season, lapwings need a mosaic of habitats, because they need different conditions for nesting and for chick rearing. 

The nest is a scrape in the ground, lined with a variable amount of plant material. The birds need a good all round view from the nest to spot predators, and nest either on bare ground or in short vegetation. They often choose rough or broken ground to aid concealment of the nest. Spring sown crops and rough grazing are ideal. 

Young Lapwing on Alistair Robb's farm. Stirlingshire

Breeding timeline

They lay clutches of four cryptically coloured eggs from late March to early June, and chicks hatch 3-4 weeks later. They are covered in down when they hatch, and are able to walk about and feed within hours.

Soon after hatching, the parents will lead them to suitable feeding areas, where the supply of surface invertebrates is good and the vegetation low. They particularly need to have nearby grassland, especially if it contains flood pools and damp patches. 

The transfer between the nesting and chick-rearing habitats can be hazardous, and chick survival often depends on how far they have to travel. The families stay in the chick-rearing habitat until the young are ready to fly at 5-6 weeks old. Lapwings only rear one brood a year, but may lay up to four replacement clutches if the eggs are lost.

Lapwing: adult feeding in wet meadow at Elmley Marsh RSPB reserve.