Twelve Fantastic Facts

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1. Despite inhabiting the vast and sparsely populated steppes of Central Asia, Sociable Lapwings almost always nest next to villages, because it is only here that the grazing pressure is sufficient to keep the grass cropped short enough to produce their favoured habitat.

2. Many lay their eggs onto piles of animal dung, perhaps because it provides insulation from the cold ground.

3. The species gets its name from the large flocks it forms on migration, but when breeding and wintering it occurs in far smaller gatherings.

4. Once common in Ukraine and southern Russia, Sociable Lapwing is now extinct as a breeding bird in the former and very rare in the latter, largely because of the loss of steppe to agriculture.

5. About a third of the global population winters each year in northern India and Pakistan – tagged birds have travelled there from Kazakhstan, but we don’t know if there are any birds breeding in western China.

6. Habitat loss remains a major issue, but the greatest threat to birds today is hunting, with guns and falcons, along the migration routes.

7. Until a satellite-tagged bird was tracked to Sudan in November 2007, there had been no records in that country for more than 50 years.

8. Satellite tracking has shown that the migration routes of the Sociable Lapwing and the Pallid Harrier are virtually identical, the two species even cross the Red Sea at the same point.

9. Though Critically Endangered, the Sociable Lapwing is not the rarest of the world’s Lapwings: the Critically Endangered Javan Lapwing Vanellus macropterus has not been recorded since 1940 and is likely extinct. We are working to ensure that the Sociable Lapwing does not disappear as well.

10. Despite being so rare, a few Sociable Lapwings straggle westwards to Europe each year; these are probably birds that “miss” the turning south through the Caucasus in autumn and keep flying west.

11. A Sociable Lapwing we monitored, called Erzhan, fitted with a satellite tag in Kazakhstan in the summer of 2007, was tracked to and from his wintering grounds in Sudan three times, and bred in a completely different region of Kazakhstan each summer.

12. Erzhan led our Turkish research partners to a passage site in Turkey in October 2007, where they were amazed to find over 3,000 Sociable Lapwings – several times more than what was then thought to be the entire world population. At the time he was tagged, Erzhan was the smallest bird ever to carry a satellite tag, but rapid advances in tagging technology mean that even smaller birds can now be tracked from satellites.