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Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwing ( Vanellus gregarius)

This species is listed as Critically Endangered because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction, for reasons that are poorly understood.

Height : 27-30 cm, weight: 180-200g. Strikingly patterned plover. Adult greyish with black and chestnut belly. White supercilium and black crown and eye-stripe. Winter adult brownish but retains supercilium and crown pattern. Juvenile brown, slightly scalloped above, and streaked black below with large white supercilium.


Study and conservation of Sociable Lapwing by ACBK

In 2004 a pilot fieldwork at the Sociable Lapwing breeding grounds was carried out in Central Kazakhstan by scientists from St Andrew’s University of Scotland and local researchers, with the support of BirdLife International and ACBK. The Sociable Lapwing research and conservation project was initiated in 2005 by researchers from RSPB and the local Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK). In 2006 the team secured funding through the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative programme that allowed the project to continue until 2009. The international team has been undertaking  detailed research work in the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn region of central Kazakhstan, between 49°40’-51°00’N and 68°35’-71°15’ E. At the main project site data have been collected on breeding distribution, nest survival, causes of nest loss, chick survival and habitat use. Breeding colonies appear to be concentrated around human settlements where short vegetation dominates due to the presence of livestock grazing.


Study of nests.

During the seven main fieldwork seasons, 2005-2011, a total of nearly 1000 nests were found and monitored on the project territory and very useful information on biology, ecology and behavior of this understudied species was collected. To be able to compare the data on breeding success, collected within the distribution core area with relevant data from an area at the border of the breeding range, a second study area was established in 2007 in the Pavlodar region of Northeastern Kazakhstan. The team was able to locate around 140 nests at this new project site and the similar amount of work was done here.  On both sites teams collected data on habitat use on colony and settlement level. The patterns of cattle grazing were studied with the help of specially designed GPS devises.

Nest cameras.

The main causes of nest loss differed between years with predation being the dominant cause in 2005 and 2007, and trampling in 2006. Nest cameras proved to be the best source of reliable information on the reasons of nest failures. For example, in 2007 evidence from nest cameras showed that in most cases nests were destroyed by ground predators.

Color ringing. 

In order to collect more detailed data on annual survival rates of Sociable Lapwing, the team has been doing intensive color ringing of adults and chicks. Color ringing also gives valuable information on chick survival rates, re-nesting attempts and exchange of individuals within the metapopulation. Additionally, some birds were re-sighted during their autumn migrations. Two Sociable Lapwings color ringed earlier in Kazakhstan were found during a special survey in Stavropol region of Southwestern Russia and 5 color ringed birds were seen in a big flock on migration in Eastern Turkey. During 7 years nearly 1400 Sociable Lapwing were ringed. All together around 100 birds of all color ringed Sociable Lapwings were re-sighted in Kazakhstan within 4 years.

Study of the population.

Every year, project field teams were surveying additional territories across the breeding range, where the bird used to breed in the past. With the project’s support and advice surveys of the historically known breeding sites in southern Russia were carried out by the ornithologists from the Russian Bird Conservation Union (RBCU), BirdLife partner in Russia. In 2010 collected data was used as a basis for the new Sociable Lapwing population estimate, which tentatively suggests that the current population is in the order of around 11200 species.

Satellite transmitter attaching

One of the major achievements of the project has been the successful work on migration routes. In October 2007 inTurkey a group of local ornithologists located a huge flock of 3200 Sociable Lapwings – the largest congregation of birds of this species for the last 100 years. The discovery was possible thanks to a satellite transmitter attached to one of the birds in that flock, tagged on the breeding grounds in Central Kazakhstan few months earlier that year. To reach the stopover sites in Turkey the bird had to cover more than 5,700 kilometers. Such a number of Sociable Lapwings at a single stopover site also supports the new population estimate. Furthermore, two tagged birds carried on their migration down to Sudan where they both spent winter and one of them came back to breeding grounds in Kazakhstan this spring. This is the first time that the main autumn migration routes of Sociable Lapwing has been assessed and mapped and the present wintering sites identified southeastern.

A comprehensive database of more than 1200 records of Sociable Lapwing observations across the whole distribution range has been compiled by project researchers, covering a period of 150 years and range of 83 countries of breeding, migrating and wintering. A great variety of sources have been evaluated, including a very detailed search for published literature in different countries, Internet searches and interviews of specialists. This database has already been successfully used in targeting field surveys on the migration roots and wintering grounds.

A great amount of work in different countries has been done to understand the reasons of the species decline and the answers are not easy to get. The reasons of the decline may lay not on the breeding grounds, as it was initially thought, but maybe connected to problems on the migration routes and wintering grounds. So the work will be carried on with a focus on the latter.