Wingspan: 64-76 cm
Top speed: 72 km/h
A wader of the lapwing family, the Sociable Lapwing received its name following observations of the species gathering in large flocks during migration. The name seems depressingly inappropriate today though, as populations have suffered a 90% decline since the 1930s. It’s hard to be sociable when so few remain. Nonetheless, this bird is still sociable in a sense, as it also tends to socialize with another species: in western and northern Europe, it is usually found hanging out with its Northern Lapwing cousins.
Interestingly, these birds have a different appearance depending on the season. In the Summer, adult Sociable Lapwings have a grey back and breast, a dark belly and a white undertail; while in the Winter, they have a less distinct head pattern, slightly browner back and breast, and a white belly. Also, the dark patch atop their head kind of looks like a short undercut, and their distinctive eyestripe resembles elegantly applied eyeliner.
Sociable Lapwings stretch their brown, white and grey wings over some of the world’s most challenging locations; such as the Hindu Kush mountain range and armed conflict zones in the Middle East. Until as recently as 2020, very little was known about the species’ wintering areas or their migration routes. We now know that, unlike many migratory birds Sociable Lapwings are faithful to their wintering grounds, returning to the same place each year. This makes the species particularly vulnerable to hunting and small-scale habitat change.
Illegal hunting has been identified as the most plausible driver of the species’ decline along the western flyway1 as well as the destruction of steppe – the Sociable Lapwing’s natural habitat – for agricultural production. Conservation efforts are hampered to an extent by the political unrest in the regions through which the Sociable Lapwing migrate. Nevertheless, BirdLife partners have been working hard to protect this species. In Turkey, for instance, our partners have trained a team of volunteer game wardens to patrol key stopover sites of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing and successfully brought in a complete hunting ban in the area.
You used to be able to find the Sociable Lapwing in Africa, Europe and Central and South Asia – but in recent years, its range has shrunk dramatically. In some areas, it’s possible that this beautiful bird is already extinct.
For more information on this species, visit the BirdLife Datazone: http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/sociable-lapwing-vanellus-gregarius
1.Donald, Paul & Kamp, Johannes & Green, Rhys & Urazaliyev, Ruslan & Koshkin, Maxim & Sheldon, Rob. (2020). Migration strategy and site fidelity of the globally threatened Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius.
- Illegal shooting