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Thursday, April 28, 2005

ANIMAL TRACKER

Gray-headed Lapwing


* Japanese name: Keri
* Scientific name: Vanellus cinereus
* Description: Lapwings are attractive, plump, medium-size birds (body length 30 cm; wingspan about 85 cm) with large orange eyes, yellow legs and a yellow bill with a black tip. The head and neck are gray, as are the tops of the wings, but the flight feathers -- which molt twice a year, before and after the breeding season -- are black. The underside of the wings and the lower half of the body are light gray, fading to white. The coloring is distinctive but disruptive, so when one stands still it is difficult to see. Lapwings have a characteristic flapping, wavering flight pattern (the Latin name refers to this, meaning "little fan") and a wheezing song that includes "weep weep" noises.
* Where to find them: In wetlands, which in Japan means especially around paddies. Lapwings are found from Honshu to Kyushu and Okinawa; the Aichi Prefecture wetlands support a large population. They can also be seen on pasture, marshland and grassland. Their numbers, however, have fallen in the last few decades.
* Food: Lapwings feed on terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, taking adult and larval insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and worms. Occasionally they will eat berries.
* Special features: Lapwings have graceful courtship displays both on the ground and in the air. They run, fan their tails, then bow and curtsey to their prospective mate. They can hover, drop suddenly, twist and turn. The male prepares several nests, which are little more than a few scrapes on the ground, and the female chooses between them, laying usually four large eggs. Females must be in good condition before laying, as they use at least 50 percent of their body weight in producing the eggs. Both parents share the task of incubation, and after about a month the eggs hatch. Living on the ground is obviously dangerous, which is probably one reason why the eggs are so large, since it means the chicks are large when they hatch. They develop quickly and fledge after 20-40 days. Despite their rapid development, the risk of nesting on the ground remains high, so eggs and chicks are well camouflaged. The parents also have a clever trick: If they spot a predator near the nest, they stagger away with a wing dragging along the ground as if broken, which lures predators away from the nest. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET



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