A spring walk around Parc Slip Nature Reserve is incomplete without hearing the characteristic ‘pee-wit’ call of breeding lapwings. From late February onwards, it is common to see lapwings performing dynamic flight displays above the Northern Wetlands and around the aptly named ‘Lapwing Field’.
Declining Lapwing Habitats
Lapwings were once a common farmland bird associated with open pasture, arable fields and wetlands. Loss of breeding habitat has caused declining numbers of lapwings across the UK, and they are currently a red-listed species. They require a mosaic of habitats during the breeding season.
For nesting they favour large open areas, with low vegetation, to spot predators whilst sitting on the nest. Lapwings will usually encourage their chicks away from the nest site to better foraging sites, rich in invertebrates. Modern farming practices and developments have changed the landscape of Wales and subsequently important breeding sites have been lost.
Lapwing population at Parc Slip
The decline of lapwings in the wider landscape has been mirrored at Parc Slip Nature Reserve. During the mid-1990s, when the reserve was still in the process of restoration from opencast workings, the breeding lapwing population on the reserve was up to 19 breeding pairs. More recently, two to three breeding pairs a year have been recorded at Parc Slip.
Unfortunately the pairs that breed at Parc Slip rarely have success at either the nest or chick stage. The last time a chick was known to be successfully reared to fledging at Parc Slip was in 2016.
If the first clutch of eggs should fail, lapwings will have a second try during the same year. A clutch will consist of four cryptically coloured, pyriform (a pointed oval) eggs.
Threat from predators
Once hatched chicks can almost immediately walk and are responsible for feeding themselves, while the parent continues to fend off potential predators.
Lapwing eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predation from the ground and air; foxes, mustelids and corvids being the major threats. Despite their small stature lapwings are aggressive, attacking any potential threat in the vicinity of their nest. Pairs that nest near each other will often communally defend their nests from such predators.
To be effective, this defence strategy needs a minimum of five pairs, allowing time for some to rest and feed, while others stay alert. At Parc Slip we may have seen nest failures because too few pairs are nesting at one time.
Our monitoring and conservation work
Over the past few years we been working with dedicated volunteers to improve and increase the nesting and foraging habitat for lapwings. We have excluded mammalian predators from, and reduced predator perches surrounding suitable nesting areas. While we have been able to record the location and success of nests, we often fail to fully monitor lapwing chicks as they quickly move away from the nest once hatched.
Difficulty in monitoring lapwings at this stage could mean that lapwings could be doing better at Parc Slip than our records suggest. This year we will be focusing on monitoring lapwing behaviour at Parc Slip, particularly at the chick stage, as well as our usual habitat works.
If you see any lapwings displaying breeding behaviour (e.g. display flights), sitting on a nest or feeding with their chicks at Parc Slip please let us know!
Please send any sightings to People & Wildlife Officer Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org including location and date.
You can also see our website for more information on volunteering opportunities