Derivation of name
The lapwing’s name derived from its unique, metallic alarming call, which sounds like a blacksmith’s hammer ringing on an anvil.
Blacksmith Lapwing, Blacksmith Plover (old name) (Eng.); bontkiewiet (Afr.); Mo-otla-tshepe (Sesotho).
A common sight around water, including pans, lakes, rivers, dams, estuaries and salt pans, and also short grasslands, sports fields and wet pastures, Blacksmith Lapwings are noisy and conspicuous birds. They have a characteristic ‘tink tink tink’ or ‘klink klink klink’ call, which they make from the ground (where they spend most of their time searching for food or tending to chicks) or in flight. Their numbers have increased during the past century because they are highly adaptable and easily settle in modified and artificial environments such as around large water features and artificial wetlands. They can be found singly, in pairs or in small groups.
How to recognise a Blacksmith Lapwing
It is not difficult to recognise a Blacksmith Lapwing. Their plumage is boldly marked in black, white and grey, and they are unlikely to be mistaken for other species. They have grey and black wings, while the rest of the body and the head are boldly patterned in white and black – also the underparts. Females are on average bigger than the males, but both sexes generally look alike. Blacksmith Lapwings are one of the five lapwing species, one Asian, two African and two Neotropical, that share the characteristics of a carpal wing spur, a boldly pied plumage and reddish eyes. The bare parts, i.e. legs, are black.
Blacksmith Lapwings, like any other birds spend a lot of time flying and running around searching for food, especially when they have chicks to cater for. Blacksmith Lapwings can be sedentary, locally nomadic as well as migratory, depending on intensity and length of rainfall and suitable habitat availability. In dry seasons, larger numbers of birds may move from arid regions into higher rainfall areas.
During extensive sub-continental drought, they remain near any suitable remaining water streams; they move only when these water sources dry out. They tend to live where their needs are best met or environmental conditions are most suitable for them, such as in moist grasslands, on the shorelines of rivers, streams, dams, lakes (natural or artificial), sports fields, as well as on road verges and open grassland areas.
It is quite interesting and appealing hearing the way in which these lapwings communicate amongst each other, with unique, noisy, metallic-sounding ‘klink klink klink’ or ‘tink tink tink’ calls repeated loudly and continuously, especially when disturbed, these clinking notes sounds like a hammer on anvil
The distribution of Blacksmith Lapwings ranges from southern Kenya to Angola in the west and South Africa in the eastern parts of the continent. They are, however, very rare or have uneven distribution in severe arid areas of western parts of the sub-continent (Namib Desert, Kalahari and parts of the Northern Cape). They are generally absent from northeastern parts of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and the former Transkei region of the Eastern Cape. They are endemic to the African continent.
They typically live where their needs are best met or environmental conditions are most suitable for them to live. If nothing tempts them to stay, they will merely pass through on their way elsewhere. Blacksmith Lapwings prefer areas of short open grassland with plenty of water, such as mudflats around dams, open gardens, parks, sports fields, sewage pans, rivers, lakes and estuaries. They occur but are uncommon on coastlines and offshore islands.
Food / Diet
Foraging mostly takes place on foot, when they run around, scanning the area for small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates to eat, which includes insects, worms, dragonfly nymphs, other insects and their larvae, beetles and ants, molluscs and crustaceans, and occasionally some plant material.
Sex and Life Cycles
Eggs, usually 3–4, size 3.5–4.3 × 2.7–3.1 mm. Clutches of more than 5 eggs are probably from two females. Eggs are a deep greenish/brownish yellow, blotched with black and grey spots. The incubation period is 26–33 days. The nest is a shallow hollow (pre-existing, e.g. a hoof print in dried mud), or a shallow scrape formed by the bird’s breast by twisting the body, or kicking soil. Nests are typically positioned close to water patches, often in seasonally inundated areas, and are lined with grass stalks, little stones and mud flakes.
Blacksmith Lapwings breed year-round, but mostly from July to October. Nesting starts earlier further north in their distribution, with different peak nesting times in different regions, e.g. July to August in the Western Cape and August to September in eastern parts of South Africa.
As times goes by after hatching, chicks will gradually range further away from the adults to become fully independent at about two months of age. They remain with the parents while the next brood is being incubated, and only move completely away from the parents after the next brood hatches. After hatching, the young chicks leave the nest within a few hours, but they remain within 10 metres of their parents while foraging for the first few weeks.
The adults warn their young ones when predators approach, and will, through aggressive or false-brooding displays, attempt to drive away or distract the perceived predator. Blacksmith Lapwings congregate in larger groups during the non-breeding season.
Friends and Foes
Potential predators include raptors (such as Lanner Falcon), gulls, crows, coots, jackal and mongooses. Eggs and chicks are also threatened by floods and trampling by cattle or game. Humans increase potential habitat for these birds by building artificial wetlands and water features, and by maintaining large lawns and sports fields, all of which Blacksmith Lapwings readily use as breeding and foraging sites.
Blacksmith Lapwings display several smart strategies; when disturbed, they will rush out at an intruder and utter their harsh clinking call, while spreading their wings and holding their bodies horizontally with the neck extended and the bill pointed towards the intruded. This will often repel attacks. Their flexible strategy of remaining sedentary or travelling as required by rainfall and food availability, as well as their ability to adapt to man-made infrastructure, also ensures their success as a species.
Poorer World Without me
Blacksmith Lapwings play an important role in the wetland/shoreline ecosystem as a result of their foraging habits and choice of food sources. They also act as ‘little alarm systems’ that warn all nearby inhabitants of approaching intruders (whether real threats or not), and add to the ambience of any wetland scene, which humans can sit and enjoy when they have a chance to be out in the field or in a garden, or when participating in an activity on a sports field.
People & I
Lapwings are very alert and noisy at times, especially when breeding. They are usually the first ones to detect humans, animals or any other intruders. At first, they will start bobbing and calling from ground, then fly up and make lots of dives over an intruder; all the while making loud calls, trying to repel or distract the intruder.
Conservation status and what the future holds
The population numbers have increased tremendously over the last 100 years due to the Blacksmith Lapwing’s ability to adapt to modified environments, and the proliferation of artificial wetlands, large lawns and sports fields in South Africa have increased suitable habitat and nesting sites. Their numbers are especially increasing in the western, more arid parts of their range. Their conservation status is evaluated to be Least Concern. (LC)
Seven other lapwing species (Vanellus spp.) occur in southern Africa, including the Long-toed Lapwing (V. crassirostris), Spur-winged Lapwing (V. spinosus), White-crowned Lapwing (V. albiceps), African Wattled Lapwing (V. senegallus), Senegal Lapwing (V. lugubris), Black-winged Lapwing (V. melantopterus), and Crowned Lapwing (V. coronatus). Blacksmith Lapwing occasionally hybridises with Spur-winged Lapwing.
Scientific name: V. armatus (Burchell, 1922)
References and further reading
- Gibbon, G. 2012–2013. Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa. iPhone and iPad edition. Version 2. Southern African Birding CC, Westville, South Africa.
- Hockey, P.A.R., Dean, W.R.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2005. Roberts birds of southern Africa VIIth Edition, John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, South Africa.
- Loon, R. & Loon, H. 2005. Birds – the inside story. Struik Nature, Cape Town.
- McLachlan, G.R. PhD. 1975. Roberts Birds of South Africa. (Contab) and Liversige, Cape Town.
- Newman K. 2002. Newman’s birds of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Willis. C., Curtis. O. & Anderson. M. 2008. Bird checklist for South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens. SANBI Biodiversity Series No. 8. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Author: Stemmer Ngalo
Free State National Botanical Garden