The Masked Lapwing is predominantly white below, with brown wings and back and a black crown. Birds have large yellow wattles covering the face, and are equipped with a thorny spur that projects from the wrist on each wing. The spur is yellow with a black tip. The Masked Lapwing has two subspecies resident in Australia. The southern subspecies has black on the hind neck and sides of breast, and has smaller facial wattles. The sexes are similar in both subspecies, although the male tends to have a larger spur.
Masked Lapwings are large (33 to 38 cm), ground-dwelling birds that are closely related to the waders. They are unmistakable in both appearance and voice, which is a loud "kekekekekekekek".
Young Masked Lapwings are similar to the adult birds, but may have a darker back. The wing spur and facial wattles are either absent or smaller in size.
Distribution and Habitat
The Masked Lapwing is common in our district. It inhabits marshes, mudflats, beaches and grasslands. It is often seen in urban areas. Where this bird is used to human presence, it may tolerate close proximity; otherwise it is very wary of people, and seldom allows close approach. During the months of June and July this species congregates in flocks and can be seen wheeling and calling along the Tamar valley. In late July they pair for breeding and become highly territorial. I was fortunate last year to have a pair successfully breed on our property despite my mowing activities. Once they were used to my invasion and seemed confident I would not hurt them, they lessened their aggression in defence of their territory.
Food and feeding
Masked Lapwings feed on insects and their larvae, and earthworms. Most food is obtained from just below the surface of the ground, but some may also be taken above the surface. Birds are normally seen feeding alone, in pairs or in small groups.
Masked Lapwings may breed at any time when conditions are suitable. Both sexes share the building of the nest, which is a simple scrape in the ground away from ground cover. This nest is often placed in inappropriate locations, such as school playing fields or the roofs of buildings.
Both sexes also incubate the three to five eggs and care for the young birds. The young birds are born with a full covering of down and are able to leave the nest and feed themselves a few hours after hatching.
The Masked Lapwing is notorious for its defence of its nesting site. This is particularly the case after the chicks have hatched. Adults will dive on intruders, or act as though they have a broken wing in an attempt to lure the intruder away from the nest.