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The shrill cry, often heard late in the evening when all other birds have gone to sleep, is familiar to people both in rural and urban areas.

If you get startled by a repeated call that sounds like "Deeeed You Dooo It", it means there's a lapwing nearby. Relax! You didn't do anything. The bird will still keep asking you that question over and over again. Most of us will hear the sound as "Deeeed You Dooo It", or a cont" in the locality, near a water body or in the wilderness. The sound casts an unmistakable stamp on the landscape whenever it flies past. The shrill cry, often heard late in the evening when all other birds have gone to sleep, is familiar to people both in rural and urban areas.

Across cultures, the lapwing is known for its ceaseless vigil and high sense of alertness. The Tamil name, "aalkatti" or "one who points out people", stems from the fact that the lapwing quickly detects any intruder in its territory and raises a loud alarm that alerts all creatures nearby. It is definitely not a favorite of hunters who rely on stealth to capture their prey. In Hindi, it's called "titahari". The Bangla name for lapwing is "hot-ti-ti".

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Lapwings are medium-sized wading birds that live near water, in paddy fields, or in open grassland. They are closely related to plovers and belong to the bird family called charadriidae. There are 25 species of lapwings spread all over the world. India has seven species: Red-wattled, Yellow-wattled, Grey-headed, River, Northern lapwings, White-tailed, and Sociable lapwing. Lapwings are good runners and waders, thanks to their long legs, they search both water and land for small insects and snails. The sociable lapwing is a critically endangered wader in the lapwing family of birds.

The Red-wattled Lapwing is the most familiar bird. It is interesting to watch because of its habit of running very fast in short spurts and grinding to a halt when it spots insects or worms to eat. The Red Wattled Lapwing bird has fleshy red streaks on its bill, known as wattles, which is why it is so-called. Males and females look alike. The most common sighted Red-wattled Lapwing is a brown, black and white bird with distinctive red, fleshy wattles above its eyes and long yellow legs. It spends its time on the ground, even laying its eggs there. The coloring of the eggs and the chicks makes them hard to spot.

Lapwing The yellow-wattled lapwing species has the characteristic, prominent triangular yellow facial wattles at the base of the bill and forehead.Pixabay

Another endemic, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, is found in most parts of the Indian subcontinent. The yellow-wattled lapwing species has the characteristic, prominent triangular yellow facial wattles at the base of the bill and forehead. There is a black or brownish-black crown, separated by a border of a thin white band. Excited birds can raise crown feathers. Yellow-wattled Lapwings are uncommon resident birds inhabiting a variety of open lowland habitats like dry areas, bare lands, fallow fields, and the fringes of wetlands. They have a shorter stature compared with that of Red-wattled Lapwing and are characterized by the presence of bright yellow fleshy lappets above and in front of eyes.

The river lapwing has a black crest, crown, face, and central throat, and grey-white neck sides and nape. The Northern lapwing has rounded wings and a crest. It is also the shortest-legged of the lapwings. It is mainly black and white, but the back is tinted green. The male has a long crest and a black crown, throat, and breast contrasting with an otherwise white face.

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The only migratory lapwing is Grey-headed lapwing which breeds in China and Japan and visits India in winter. The lapwing has a spectacular song flight. The male wobbles, zigzags, rolls, and dives while calling to advertise his presence to rival males and potential mates. They are ground-dwelling birds who tend to nest in loose groups. In the breeding season, lapwings need a mosaic of habitats, because they need different conditions for nesting and for chick rearing.

Lapwings have an amazing technique of camouflaging their eggs on their ground nest to such an extent that they would remain undetected even if one is standing right in front of them. For an idle eye, these eggs on the ground are mere pebbles�helping them dodge predators. These alert birds are active and wide awake even at night. Their normal flight is unhurried -- attained by the deliberate flapping of the wings and seldom at a great height from the ground. When threatened or protecting their young, they are fast and furious. In parts of India, a local belief is that the bird sleeps on its back with the legs upwards and an associated Hindi metaphor 'Tithiri se asman thama jayegz' (can the lapwing support the heavens?) is used to refer to persons undertaking tasks beyond their ability or strength. It is also believed that the laying of eggs by the lapwing on high ground is an indication of good rains to come. (IANS/JC)


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