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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ANIMAL TRACKER

Northern lapwing


Japanese name: Tageri

Scientific name: Vanellus vanellus

Description: Although they are seen across temperate Europe as well as Asia, the long graceful crest on their heads and the black-and-white plumage on their faces, heads and necks to me give lapwings a Japanese look — as the crest and the black markings are like flourishes made by a master of calligraphy. A medium-size bird, the adult lapwing's body is up to 30 cm long, and the wingspan is up to 72 cm. In flight, the wings are rounded, with again aesthetically pleasing black-and-white plumage. The back of the bird and the top of the wings are black, tinted metallic green. Females and juveniles have similar plumage and markings, but the wings are narrower than the males', and their heads are less dramatically painted, with a smaller crest.

Where to find them: From Hokkaido to Kyushu, near water. Lapwings are wading birds and can be seen in flocks on cultivated land, marshes, mud flats and estuaries. They breed in a scrape on the ground that can barely be called a nest, but three to four large eggs are well camouflaged and usually safe enough, and the birds defend them and the young birds against anything (cows, horses, people) that might come close. However, their numbers have fallen as farming techniques have become more intensive and aggressive.

Food: Insects and other small invertebrates such as worms.

Special features: Not hard to spot or to identify, the lapwing also has a shrill, easily heard call. In the breeding season especially, males call constantly, "peewit, peewit," while at the same time performing a tumbling courtship display flight like a crazed aerial clown. Incidentally, there is a cultural quirk in the West that is the result of a mingling of pagan fertility rites and Christian stories — and lapwings are involved. At Easter, there are symbols of rabbits that lay eggs — the Easter bunny. This story of the Easter bunny probably comes from confusing lapwing nests — scrapes in the ground containing eggs — with the "form" of hares, which are also just scrapes in the ground where baby hares live. If a predator approaches the nest, to lure it away from the eggs, adults may pretend to limp and stagger while holding out a wing as if it were broken. Still, living on the ground is always dangerous, and the chicks fledge as fast as possible — in as little as three weeks — in order to minimize the risk.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET



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