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10 Fascinating Facts About the Black-winged Lapwing

The Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus) is a striking bird species that can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa. With its distinctive black and white plumage and long legs, this bird is often spotted in open grasslands, cultivated areas, and near water sources.




The Black-winged Lapwing is a medium-sized bird with a length of around 30-35 cm. It has a black head, chest, and belly, with a prominent white forehead and distinctive white wings.

The bill is black, and the legs and feet are long and pinkish-grey. Males and females have similar external features, and juveniles have a lighter plumage with a duller black coloration.

Similar Species:

The Black-winged Lapwing can be distinguished from other lapwing species by its black wings and white belly. The Senegal Lapwing (Vanellus lugubris) and White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) are the most similar-looking species, but they can be told apart by their different calls.


The Black-winged Lapwing undergoes a complete molt after the breeding season, which results in a change in its appearance. During the breeding season, adults have a white neck with black streaks, while after molting, the neck feathers are plain black.

The black belly feathers are also replaced by new white feathers during the post-breeding season.


The molt pattern in Black-winged Lapwings varies depending on the individual’s age, sex, and breeding status. Juvenile birds experience two molts in their first year, a feather molt, and a body molt.

Adults undergo a complete post-breeding molt, during which they replace all their feathers. The pattern and timing of molting differ among subspecies and can also vary depending on environmental factors such as rainfall and temperature.

Overall, the Black-winged Lapwing is a fascinating bird species that is both visually striking and ecologically valuable. As a ground-nesting bird, it plays an essential role in regulating insect populations and maintaining grassland habitats.

By understanding its field identification, plumages, and molting patterns, we can appreciate this bird’s beauty and importance in the ecosystem. The Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus) belongs to the family Charadriidae, which includes plovers and lapwings.

This bird species has a rich systematics history, with different studies documenting geographic variation, subspecies, and related species. Additionally, the bird’s distribution has changed historically, influenced by environmental factors such as climate change and human activities.

Geographic Variation:

Studies have shown that the Black-winged Lapwing exhibits significant geographic variation in terms of plumage, body size, and vocalizations. Birds from southern Africa tend to have a smaller body size, while those from East Africa and Ethiopia are larger.

In terms of plumage, birds from the southern African region have a lighter belly coloration compared to those from East Africa. These dramatic differences suggest that the species may have diverged into distinct groups based on the regions where they live.


The Black-winged Lapwing has seven recognized subspecies, each with unique physical characteristics and geographic ranges. These subspecies include Vanellus melanopterus melanopterus, V.

m. namibiensis, V.

m. aethiopicus, V.

m. albidus, V.

m. lugubris, V.

m. biarmicus, and V.

m. capensis.

V. m.

melanopterus is found in the central and southern parts of Africa, while the other subspecies have more limited ranges within the continent. The subspecies differ in their plumage coloration, size, and vocalizations, indicating the presence of ecological barriers to gene flow.

Related Species:

The Black-winged Lapwing is closely related to several other lapwing species, including the White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps), Senegal Lapwing (Vanellus lugubris), and Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus). All these species have similar physical characteristics, such as their long legs and distinctive calls.

However, they can be distinguished from each other by their plumage coloration and geographic ranges. Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Black-winged Lapwing’s distribution has changed significantly over time, influenced by several factors, including climate change and human activities.

Fossil records indicate that the species was once widespread in North Africa, but its range has shrunk due to habitat loss and degradation caused by human land use practices such as deforestation and grazing. Climate change has also played a role in changing the bird’s distribution, as it has altered the availability of water and suitable habitat.

Some studies suggest that the species may have expanded its range into previously unsuitable areas due to changes in rainfall patterns. For example, the bird has been observed breeding in the Kalahari Desert in recent years, where rainfall levels have increased.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Lapwing is a fascinating bird species with a complex systematics history. Its geographic variation, subspecies, and relationships with other lapwing species provide clues about the bird’s evolutionary history and ecological adaptations.

The bird’s historical changes in distribution, driven by both natural and anthropogenic factors, serve as a reminder of the dynamic nature of ecosystems and the need for conservation efforts to protect biodiversity. The Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus) is a bird species that inhabits a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, cultivated areas, and wetlands.

Its movements and migration patterns are influenced by environmental factors such as rainfall, food availability, and breeding behavior. Habitat:

The Black-winged Lapwing is a highly adaptable species that can be found in a range of habitats across its range in sub-Saharan Africa.

It prefers open grassy areas such as savannas and agricultural fields but can also be found near seasonally flooded wetlands and riverbanks. The bird is known to avoid heavily forested areas and prefers habitats with short grass or bare ground, which provide suitable nesting sites and foraging opportunities.


The movements of the Black-winged Lapwing are influenced by seasonal changes in rainfall and food availability. During the dry season, birds tend to congregate in wetlands and other areas with access to water, while in the rainy season, they disperse to drier areas in search of food.

Some studies suggest that the species is also influenced by the availability of short-grass habitats for nesting and roosting. Migration:

The Black-winged Lapwing is a partial migrant, with some populations being resident and others migratory.

Birds in southern and central Africa are resident, while those in East Africa and Ethiopia migrate to other regions during the dry season. The migratory birds move to areas with higher rainfall levels and better foraging opportunities.

The migration patterns of the bird are not well documented, but it is believed to follow a west-east or north-south route depending on the region. Breeding and Nesting:

The Black-winged Lapwing’s breeding behavior is closely tied to its movements and habitat selection.

Birds in wetland habitats tend to breed during the rainy season, while those in dry areas breed at the onset of the wet season. The species is known for its distinctive courtship display, which involves running in circles around the females and making a series of calls.

Nests are shallow scrapes on the ground, lined with grass and other vegetation. The female lays two to three eggs, which are incubated by both parents for around four weeks.

Chicks are able to run and feed themselves soon after hatching but are vulnerable to predation by birds of prey and other predators. Conservation Status:

The Black-winged Lapwing is classified as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, some populations may be declining due to habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities such as agriculture, pastoralism, and urbanization. The bird is also impacted by hunting for meat and egg collection.

There is a need for more monitoring and conservation efforts to ensure the long-term survival of this species. In conclusion, the Black-winged Lapwing is a fascinating bird species with complex movements, behaviour and ecological requirements.

Its distribution, movements, and breeding behavior are influenced by a range of environmental factors, and conservation efforts are necessary to protect its habitat and ensure its survival. The Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus) is a bird species that has unique foraging habits and vocalizations.

It feeds primarily on insects and other small prey, using a range of feeding techniques and vocalizations to communicate with other individuals. Diet and Foraging:

Feeding: The Black-winged Lapwing is an omnivorous bird that feeds primarily on insects, especially grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, and ants.

During the breeding season, the bird may also feed on small vertebrates such as lizards and rodents. It uses a range of feeding techniques, including probing, pecking, and scratching on the ground to uncover hidden prey.

Diet: The Black-winged Lapwing’s diet is influenced by seasonal changes in prey availability. During the dry season, when insect populations are lower, the bird may supplement its diet with seeds and plant material.

The bird’s foraging strategies are also influenced by the habitat in which it lives. In grasslands and savannas, the bird is known to use a ‘flush and catch’ technique, whereby it flushes insects from the grass before catching them.

In wetland habitats, the bird may wade in shallow water to catch small fish and crustaceans. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation: The Black-winged Lapwing has adaptations that allow it to regulate its body temperature in hot environments.

It has a respiratory system that facilitates evaporative cooling and can regulate its metabolic rate based on the temperature of its surroundings. These adaptations are critical for the bird to survive in areas with high daytime temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:

Vocalization: The Black-winged Lapwing is known for its distinctive calls, which are used to communicate with both conspecifics and intruders. Its primary call is a ‘kleep-kleep-kleep’ note, which is used to maintain contact with other birds and to advertise its territory.

During breeding season, the bird also has a range of other calls, including a ‘wheep-wheep’ call used during courtship and a ‘kee-loo’ call used to signal to the female during pre-copulatory display. The bird’s vocalizations also serve to deter predators such as birds of prey and snakes.

When threatened, the bird may give a loud alarm call, which can alert other members of the group to the danger. When a predator is spotted, the bird may take a ’tilting’ posture, whereby it leans forward and lowers its head to appear more significant.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Lapwing is a bird species with unique adaptations for foraging and vocalizations. Its diverse diet and foraging strategies allow it to survive in a range of habitats, while its vocalizations are critical for communication and predator deterrence.

Conservation efforts should aim to protect the bird’s habitat and prey sources, ensuring its long-term survival in the wild. The Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus) has a range of behaviors that are essential for its survival and reproduction.

These behaviors include locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, breeding, and demography and populations, which are all critical for understanding and conserving this species. Behavior:

Locomotion: The Black-winged Lapwing has adaptations that allow it to move efficiently over the ground.

It has long legs that are ideal for wading in shallow water and running on the ground. The bird has a distinctive gait, with a series of precise hopping steps that allow it to avoid obstacles and navigate uneven terrain.

Self-Maintenance: The Black-winged Lapwing engages in self-grooming behaviors, such as preening its feathers to remove dirt and parasites. It also engages in sunbathing behavior, which allows it to regulate its body temperature and dry out its feathers.

The bird is also known to take dust baths, which help to remove excess oil and dirt from its feathers. Agonistic Behavior: The Black-winged Lapwing engages in a range of agonistic behaviors, including aerial displays, chasing, and calling, to protect its territory and defend itself against predators.

It may also engage in mobbing behavior, whereby a group of birds will harass and distract a predator to protect their chicks or eggs. Sexual Behavior: The Black-winged Lapwing’s sexual behavior is critical for successful breeding.

During the breeding season, males will perform elaborate courtship displays, including running and jumping, to attract females. The bird also engages in pre-copulatory displays, which involve stretching its wings and calling to the female.

Breeding: The Black-winged Lapwing is a ground-nesting bird that creates a shallow nest scrape on the ground. The female will lay two to three eggs, which both parents will incubate for around four weeks.

After hatching, the chicks are precocial and can run, feed, and maintain body heat themselves. The chicks will typically remain with their parents for several weeks after hatching, feeding on insects and learning crucial survival skills.

Demography and Populations: The Black-winged Lapwing is a low-density species that is sensitive to habitat loss and landscape fragmentation. Population estimates are difficult to obtain, but the species is believed to be declining in some regions due to habitat loss, hunting, egg harvesting, and predation.

However, conservation efforts such as habitat restoration, protected areas, and public education campaigns can help to mitigate these threats. In conclusion, the Black-winged Lapwing is a fascinating bird species with a range of behaviors essential for its survival and reproductive success.

Its unique adaptations for locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior give insights into its ecology and evolution. Its demography and population dynamics provide valuable information for conservation planning and efforts to protect this species in the wild.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Lapwing is a remarkable bird species that has evolved a range of adaptations to survive in a changing environment. Its unique plumage, foraging habits, vocalizations, and behaviors are all critical for its survival and reproductive success.

Understanding the bird’s systematics history, movements and migration patterns, habitat requirements, and demography is essential for conservation efforts aimed at mitigating threats to its survival. As a low-density species that is sensitive to habitat loss, landscape fragmentation, hunting, and egg harvesting, the Black-winged Lapwing requires sustained efforts to protect its habitat, maintain habitats, and reduce the impact of human activities.

By conserving this species, we can protect the biodiversity and ecological integrity of sub-Saharan African ecosystems, which will have implications beyond this remarkable bird species.

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