Walking this afternoon in East Durham I came across some ploughed fields and my first sight this year of displaying lapwings.
Making the familiar pee-wit call for most of the year, the lapwing display call is very different: unforgettable, but very difficult to describe: the closest thing I can think of (but actually nowhere near) is a bicycle pump, the sound being sucked in and out. I found myself surrounded by lapwings.
I’ve seen displaying lapwings before. They fly around and around their favoured spot in the field, usually in pairs, showing off their acrobatic talents. Today the atmosphere was different. Clearly not yet paired up, four or five birds persistently dive bombed, harassed and attacked each other. Oblivious to my presence, I witnessed relentless, vicious attacks interspersed with showy display flights.
Lapwings are strange but beautiful looking creatures. They have incredibly broad wings and are barely recognisable as wading birds. In the air they can bear a resemblance to hawks or crows, or look like nothing else on earth. They are skilled and showy fliers, playing with the air like a kite.
I don’t know, but I’m guessing that these were all males. Either the males pick and defend a territory, or the females were keeping their heads down and preparing to choose the best combatants for mates. Certainly the displays I’ve witnessed later in the breeding season hold less aggression and more showmanship.
I took my leave after twenty minutes, my hands turned numb with cold, but the fighting was showing no sign of abating. In the background skylarks were chattering away: a much more genteel way of demonstrating breeding fitness.
More photos on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yazz2/sets/72157626130557363/