Spur-winged plover

Vanellus miles (Boddaert, 1783)

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Charadriidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Not Threatened

Other names: masked lapwing, masked plover, spur-wing, spurwinged plover, spur winged plover

Geographical variation: Two subspecies are recognised: Vanellus m. miles occurring through northern Queensland to New Guinea and Moluccas, and V.m. novaehollandiae  extending south to Tasmania.  Both populations overlap in a broad zone centred on Townsville. New Zealand birds are V.m. novaehollandiae, likely originating in southeast Queensland or northern New South Wales.

Spur-winged plover. Adult. Wellington, June 2009. Image © Duncan Watson by Duncan Watson

Spur-winged plover. Adult. Wellington, June 2009. Image © Duncan Watson by Duncan Watson

The New Zealand spur-winged plover population has a unique conservation trajectory among our native bird species. In just over 80 years since the first breeding record, it has gone from a fully protected native to having that protection removed in 2010. First recorded breeding near Invercargill in 1932, it subsequently spread northwards through the country, becoming established in Northland in the 1980s. A bird of open country, it is an obtrusive, noisy addition to habitats ranging from riverbeds and sea and lakeshores to agricultural pasture and urban parklands. Common names for birds can be a linguistic minefield, but our spur-winged plover should not to be confused with a species of the same name that occurs in central Africa. Given that it is actually a lapwing, perhaps it would have been easier if we had adopted its Australian name - masked lapwing.

Identification

The spur-winged plover is a large stocky wader with pronounced yellow bill and wattles, and yellow eye ring. Black on the crown and hind neck becomes a black collar extending to sides of the breast. The rest of the head, neck and under parts are white, the mantle, back and coverts are uniform light grey-brown contrasting with a white rump. The black tail has a white base and thin white tip. The long legs are reddish brown. A long yellow spur protruding from the carpal area of each wing gives the species its name. The flight pattern of the spur-winged plover - shallow beats of broad rounded wings - is unlike any other New Zealand wader.

Voice: a shrill staccato rattle – often heard at night.

Similar species: none

Distribution and habitat

Spur-winged plovers are now widespread in a wide range of open habitats throughout New Zealand. They may be found in almost any area with low vegetation, often near water: from the margins of marine and terrestrial wetlands, riverbeds and lake shores to estuaries and beaches, to farm pastures and almost any grassland in urban areas, playing fields, parks or even road verges. Spur-winged plovers are resident on the Chatham Islands, and vagrant birds have been recorded from the Kermadec, Bounty, Snares, Antipodes, Auckland and Campbell Islands.

Population

The spur-winged plover is abundant. A 1994 estimate of c.3,600 was based on birds counted at harbours and estuaries, and was a gross underestimate of a species that occurs widely in many different habitats

Ecological and economic impacts

Fully protected since 1946, a growing number of complaints about spur-winged plovers from a broad spectrum of the community – private individuals, regional councils, conservation organisations, and hunting interests – led to that status being removed in 2010. They join southern black-backed gulls as the only native species without some level of legal protection. The horticultural industry and market gardeners complained of crop damage, particularly to green-leafed vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce. Others believed them to be causing problems for other native species; for example, there is video footage of a spur-winged plover destroying a New Zealand dotterel egg, and also limited reports of them attacking other native birds. However, according to a Department of Conservation discussion document, ‘while they are aggressive and may displace other indigenous species from habitats, their overall impact on other native species are considered not significant.’However the bulk of concerns related to ‘interactions’ with aircraft. Of the 1406 incidents of bird strikes (or near misses) reported to the Civil Aviation Authority from October 1999 to September 2004 where the species was identified – 37 per cent were spur-winged plovers. There also appeared to be an upward trend in the number of incidents as the species continued its expansion through the country. The proportion of incidents where spur-winged plover  were involved was 8 per cent in 1988, 11 per cent in 1989, 14 per cent in 1990 and 22 per cent in 1991. Nearly half of reported incidents were strikes.

Breeding

Spur-winged plovers breed as isolated pairs, and are monogamous with shared incubation and chick care. They nest in a wide range of open habitats such as wetland edges and saltmarsh, but most commonly occur in areas associated with human activities, including pasture and cropland, urban parks and golf courses and even the roofs of buildings. (One pair nested on an office building roof in the inner Auckland suburb of Newmarket.) Most nests are a simple scrape that may be lined with various nearby materials –including dried grass or twigs, small pebbles and sheep droppings. The 3-4 eggs are olive-yellow, -brown or -green with irregular dark brown or purple spots and blotches. Laying is usually June to November. Incubation takes 30-34 days, with precocial chicks leaving the nest almost immediately after hatching, fledging at 6-7 weeks and independent after 8-9 months.

Behaviour and ecology

This very successful recent coloniser is now a highly visible and often loud presence in open areas throughout the country. Their success is clearly linked to human modifications of the landscape, especially from agricultural and urban development. Their loud staccato cry, often in response to disturbance, is unmistakable. They are vigorous defenders of their territories, and are commonly seen mobbing swamp harriers.

Food

Spur-winged plovers take a wide range of marine and terrestrial invertebrates including molluscs, crustaceans, insects, and worms.

Weblinks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masked_Lapwing

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3158

References

Anon. 2006. Review of Level of Protection for Some New Zealand Wildlife: Public Discussion Document. Strategy and Policy Group, Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Barlow, M. 1983. The year of the spur-winged plover. Craig Printing, Invercargill.

Barlow, M. 1988. Spur winged plover longevity record. Notornis 35: 195–196.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2, raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Moffatt, M. 1981. Aspects of the biology of the spur-winged plover (Vanellus miles novaehollandiae Stephens 1819). Unpubl MSc thesis, Massey University.

Woodley, K. 2012. Shorebirds of New Zealand: sharing the margins. Penguin, Auckland.

Recommended citation

Woodley, K. 2013. Spur-winged plover in Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Spur-winged plover

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nestling type
altricial

Spur-winged plover

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
scrape
Nest description
Nest may be lined with whatever materials are nearby, including twigs, leaves, dried grass, small or sheep droppings. Unlined nests found in newly ploughed paddocks. May also nest on roofs of buildings.
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
1
Clutch size (mean)
3-4
Clutch size (min)
3
Mean egg dimensions (length)
49.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
35.00 mm
Egg colour
Ground colour varies from yellowish or brownish-olive to olive-green, with irregular spots or blotches of brownish-black or purple
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
24-48 hours
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
30-34 days
Incubation length (min)
30days
Incubation length (max)
34days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (mean)
Almost immediately after hatching
Age at fledging (mean)
42-49 days
Age at fledging (min)
42days
Age at fledging (max)
49days
Age at independence (mean)
8-9 months
Age at first breeding (typical)
2 years
Age at first breeding (min)
1years
Maximum longevity
17 years and 2 months
Maximum dispersal
248 km