The Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), formerly also known as the Spur-winged Plover, is a large, common and conspicuous bird native to northern and eastern Australia, New Guinea, and the islands nearby.
Masked Lapwings are most common around the edges of wetlands and in other moist, open environments, but are adaptable and can often be found in surprisingly arid areas.
Vanellus miles novaehollandiae bathing at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat.
Vanellus miles miles, Darwin.
They are best known for their bold nesting habits, being quite prepared to make a nest on almost any stretch of open ground, including suburban parks and gardens, school ovals, sometimes even supermarket carparks. The nesting pair defends the territory against all intruders, calling loudly, swooping fast and low, and where necessary striking at the interloper with the conspicuous yellow spur on the carpal joint of the wing.
There are two distinct races, which until recently were thought to be separate species. The northern race (Vanellus miles miles) has an all-white neck and large yellow wattles. The southern race (Vanellus miles novaehollandiae) has a black neck-stripe and smaller wattles; for many years it was called the Spur-winged Plover — which led to confusion with a quite different Asian and African bird (Vanellus spinosus) with the same name.
Although usually resident in a fixed area all year round, Masked Lapwings become nomadic when food supplies become insufficient, often following ephemeral wetlands after rain, or gathering in large numbers near remaining swampy ground during dry seasons (particularly in the tropical north of Australia).
Members of the southern Australian race have wandered as far as New Zealand from time to time. In 1932 breeding was first recorded, and Masked Lapwings are now widespread and common on both sides of the Tasman.