Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kell's Plovers (Lapwings)

I confess to being an unreconstructed birdwatcher from the 1960s, when it comes to this bird. To me it will always be a "Spur-winged Plover" (Vanellus miles).

These wonderful photos were sent to me by an email colleague of mine in SE Queensland. His name is Kell, and he took these photos near the Hinze Dam (at Gilston).

Since the 1960s, this bird has had two name changes. Firstly it was merged with its northern cousin the Masked Plover. Then both got re-named to join their Northern Hemisphere cousins, the Lapwings. So it is now the "Masked Lapwing".
Nest on the ground with four eggs.

Egg in Kell's hand.
Most ground-nesting birds have large eggs.
"Domestic Chickens" employ this same system.
This is to allow the chick to hatch at a precocious stage of development.
These chicks are fully feathered and ready to run, within hours of hatching.
By contrast, most perching birds are naked and defenceless when they hatch.
I like to think that names ought be given to birds according to their most distinctive characteristics, rather than following "priority" or "precedence" - the use of the "first accurate name".

In this case, I like the idea of naming the bird according to that feature which most clearly distinguishes this bird from others. Sure it does have a "mask" - but so do many other birds, such as Muscovy Ducks, and Swamp Hens.
But this bird has evolved in such a way that the tiny bones which all birds have in their wings which are equivalent to our "thumbs" have developed as spurs which protrude prominently through their feathers, to become attack weapons. And that is a unique attribute. And the birds behaviour is distinctive, because of this feature.

Anyone who has ever seen these birds nesting, and tried to approach them (and we all did, as school children on parks and ovals, surely?) will recall that these birds use their spurs to terrify intruders. Many birds will attack intruders. Magpies and Currawongs do that, but they use their beaks. Falcons will dive bomb you, but with their talons out to strike you. These Plovers attack intruders, with their wings held in such away as to try and strike with the spurs.
Wings held open, revealing the prominent spurs.

Of course, it is a defence strategy - to protect the eggs and chicks. It is not a random act of violence - far from it.

Click on image to enlarge it.
Chicks beaks labelled A, B, and C for ease of sorting out where they are. D is an opened egg - which one of these chicks had just crawled out of. E is an egg as yet unopened.

Kell told me that these birds know him well. He said:
"They have been nesting here for about four years. When I drive by them in a small tractor they stay put. ( 3 foot away ) But if I approach them on foot, they get a bit agro but don’t attack me."

Chick at about 10 minutes after hatching.
Kell continues: "They lay one egg each day for four days. But when they hatch they all hatch in 8 hours. And by 3 pm that day they are gone. I do see them through the next 2 weeks -
but never in the same spot on 28 acres."

Note the Mask is already present - in developmental stage.
The Egg Tooth is clearly visible on the tip of the beak.
Young birds use this calcareous tip to break through the egg - from the inside.
The Egg Tooth drops off the beak, after a few weeks.
Lovely photos Kell. Thank you very much for sharing them.


mick said...

Those are really great photos showing details one usually only sees in books. I wish the plovers next door would calm down a bit but with the children who come by and deliberately tease and chase them there is not much chance.

Gouldiae said...

Gorgeous Denis, and thanks Kell for the great pics. I'm with you Denis. I have great trouble calling them 'Masked Lapwings' when proper bird people are within earshot.
Like Kell said, there's a couple at one end of the golf course that let me get near on the quad bike, but as soon as I get off to shift a hose, etc, they skedaddle.

Denis Wilson said...

Once again, thanks to kell for the photos.
He has seen the post, and is happy with the way I strung his photos together.
Plovers (and they always will be Plovers to me) are such controversial birds, especially when they nest on peoples driveways, etc.
I am not surprised that they accept vehicles better than people walking, Gouldiae. They are less of a direct threat - seemingly a machine, not a person.
You've got to love a bird with "attitude".

Mosura said...

I always called them Spur-winged Plovers too although after many year living in Britain I find it a little easier to call them Lapwings.

They are brilliant photographs. Great details. Well done Kell!

miztres said...

Thanks for the great photos and article. I've just added a link to them for a blog entry I have just written about my recently masked plover experience. It can be viewed here:

Denis Wilson said...

Well Miztres, let me say this.
There is a fine line between stealing an image without acknowledging its source, and creating a hidden link, which is not evident in the text.
You do know how to create visible "hotlinks" - as you did with the Brine Shrimps in your first article on the dust storm. That would have been preferable.
As would an ackowledgement to "Kell for Queensland" whose name was clearly evident in my article.
Personally, I am not a grump, and would normally welcome a fellow blogger's links. But I am very sensitive to this, because the photos were not mine (as I made perfectly clear in the title of my blog and in the text of my blog posting).
As it is, I now have to explain to my friend Kell that someone else has "borrowed" his images, without appropriate recognition or credit being given.
May I suggest you get a camera (even a mobile phone - which you have probably got) and take your own photos, and post them with pride.
It would make a better story, and everyone would feel happier.
Best wishes for future blogging (without flogging images).

Anonymous said...

I am from Australia. I just happen to park our car right next to a nest with the four eggs in it. There was no sign of the parents. This was at a motorcycle race track in NSW. Thank you very much for the information on your website. It has helped me identify the eggs and the birds responsible.

Denis Wilson said...

Dear Anon.
Glad that it helped you identify the birds.
I will pass your message to Kell, who took the photos.

jess183xp said...

We have that nest in-front of our house in the park, there has been some kids who didn't know they were nesting and were intimidating them so the parents swooped them when the weren't that close, then one day my mum and i approched the father moved away slightly and let us get very close to the eggs so we could get a photo. Also how did you hold the egg without the parents abanding them, if they are your birds how did you get them, they are super cute ^^

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Jess
I didn't take the photos - Kell from Queensland did. I posted them for him.
Handling chicks and eggs is not to be recommended. But as the process had already occurred, apparently without bad results, I decided to post he images.
The Lapwings ("Plovers") are very determined parents, which is good.

Spurwing Plover said...

Young plovers wil grow up and produce young plovers and on and on and on

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Spurwing.
And so they should.
You sound as if you know of which you speak.
Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that I absolutely HATE Plovers. They've nested on MY paddock ;) in which I can't make a simple trip across it without being swooped. :(

If I find their eggs, well. BYE BYE.

Alissa said...

This is a great informative page and beautifully put-together page. I am very aware of these birds, although have never had any "encounters" with them. Yesterday at the Royal Botanic Gardens, we were walking along a path and were screeched at by one. We quickly saw the reason as three fluffy chicks followed her. One was a little slower and not so willing as its siblings and we waited and watched as he found his way up a collapsed area of the foothpath gutter. Later that day I found a broken eggshell in the Gardens and thanks to your page I now know that it was the egg.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Alissa
Its always satisfying to sort something out like that.
Happy to have helped.
Kell took the photos - in Queensland.

Mummaroo said...

What absolutely amazing and beautiful pics - well done Kell in Queensland! I only just discovered this item on your blog Denis, whilst I was checking some details on plovers for our newsletter - we have had them nest on our side lawn for two years now and I have nothing but admiration for them. I think they are the wombats of the bird world - what a plover wants to do, a plover does! You gotta love them. Our pair nested a good six weeks earlier than last year - I believe they breed when conditions are suitable so this may explain it, but I do wonder if maybe climate change is affecting them also. Regards, Kay.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Kay
Well, if you are doing a newsletter for the local Wildlife Group, Kay, then I am sure Kell would not mind if you used his photos.
They are delightful.
I have lost contact with Kell, but we exchanged photos and emails around that time.
He lived behind the Gold Coast, in the hinterland there, somewhere.
Glad you found the photos.

Anonymous said...

I'm north of Lismore.

Came across plover's nest in
paddock out the back. Owner often

mows and concerned eggs will

be damaged. Anyone know
incubation period?


Denis Wilson said...

This is a commonly asked question.
"The incubation period is 28-30 days"
At least if you do wait, you might get some very cute photos of little balls of fluff.
Best wishes.
Incidentally, this incubation period is relatively long, because the chicks need long development period in the egg, so that they come out fully feathered, and ready to run.
Compare that with the helpless chicks of most small birds, which do not even open their eyes for few days.
Once they have hatched, they can run, and are of course fully feathered, but need the protection of the adults.
They stay with them for about 3 - 5 months.
Best of luck

Anonymous said...

Hi from n.s.w We have plovers nesting in our yard with three eggs,
the first laid 32 days ago. Yesterday I noticed small chips in shells, today not much different, does anyone know how long it takes eggs to chip out of eggs?

Anonymous said...

First time at this. We have plovers with 3 eggs in our front yard. First egg laid 32 days ago. Yesterday noticed small chips in all eggs, today not much different. How long does it take chicks to break out of shells?