The Red-wattled Lapwing (肉垂麦鸡/Vanellus Indicus) is a lapwing or large plover, a wader in the family Charadriidae. It has characteristic loud alarm calls which are variously rendered as did he do it or pity to do it leading to colloquial names like the did-he-do-it bird. Usually seen in pairs or small groups not far from water but may form large flocks in the non-breeding season (winter).
Red-wattled lapwings are large waders, about 35 cm long. The wings and back are light brown with a purple sheen, but head and chest and front part of neck are black. Prominently white patch runs between these two colours, from belly and tail, flanking the neck to the sides of crown. Short tail is tipped black. A red fleshy wattle in front of each eye, black-tipped red bill, and the long legs are yellow. In flight, prominent white wing bars formed by the white on the secondary coverts.
Race aigneri is slightly paler and larger than the nominate race and is found in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Indus valley. The nominate race is found all over India. The Sri Lankan race lankae is smaller and dark while atronuchalis the race in north-eastern India and eastern Bangladesh has a white cheek surrounded by black.
Males and females are similar in plumage but males have a 5% longer wing and tend to have a longer carpal spur. The length of the birds is 320-350mm, wing of 208-247mm with the nominate averaging 223mm, Sri Lanka 217mm. The Bill is 31-36mm and tarsus of 70-83mm. Tail length is 104-128mm.
It usually keeps in pairs or trios in well-watered open country, ploughed fields, grazing land, and margins and dry beds of tanks and puddles. They occasionally form large flocks, ranging from 26 to 200 birds. It is also found in forest clearings around rain-filled depressions. It runs about in short spurts and dips forward obliquely (with unflexed legs) to pick up food in a typical plover manner. They are said to feed at night being especially active around the full moon. Is uncannily and ceaselessly vigilant, day or night, and is the first to detect intrusions and raise an alarm, and was therefore considered a nuisance by hunters. Flight rather slow, with deliberate flaps, but capable of remarkable agility when defending nest or being hunted by a hawk.
Its striking appearance is supplemented by its noisy nature, with a loud and scolding did-he-do-it call, often uttered at night.
Leucistic abnormal plumage is rare.
The local names are mainly onomatopoeic in origin and include titeeri (Hindi), tittibha (Kannada), tateehar (Sindhi), titodi (Gujarati), hatatut (Kashmiri), balighora (Assamese), yennappa chitawa (Telugu), aal-kaati (Tamil, meaning “human indicator”).
It breeds from West Asia (Iraq, SW Iran, the Arabian/Persian Gulf) eastwards across South Asia (Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the entire Indian subcontinent up to Kanyakumari and up to 1800m in Kashmir/Nepal), with another sub-species further east in Southeast Asia. May migrate altitudinally in spring and autumn (e.g. in N. Baluchistan or NW Pakistan), and spreads out widely in the monsoons on creation of requisite habitats, but by and large the populations are resident.
This species is declining in its western range, but is abundant in much of South Asia, being seen at almost any wetland habitat in its range.
Behaviour and ecology
The breeding season is mainly March to August. The courtship involves the male puffing its feathers and pointing its beak upwards. The male then shuffles around the female. Several males may display to females and they may be close together. The eggs are laid in a ground scrape or depression sometimes fringed with pebbles, goat or hare droppings. About 3–4 black-blotched buff eggs shaped a bit like a peg-top (pyriform), 42×30 mm on average. Nests are difficult to find since the eggs are cryptically coloured and usually matches the ground pattern. In residential areas, they sometimes take to nesting on roof-tops. They have been recorded nesting on the stones between the rails of a railway track, the adult leaving the nest when trains passed. Nests that have been threatened by agricultural operations have been manually translocated by gradually shifting the eggs. When nesting they will attempt to dive bomb or distract potential predators. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and divert predators using distraction displays or flash their wings to deter any herbivores that threaten the nest. Males appear to relieve the females incubating at the nest particularly towards the hot part of noon. The eggs hatch in 28 to 30 days. The reproductive success is about 40%. Egg mortality is high (~43%) due to predation by mongooses, crows and kites. Chicks had a lower mortality (8.3%) and their survival improved after the first week.
Like other lapwings, they soak their belly feathers to provide water to their chicks as well as to cool the eggs during hot weather.
They bathe in pools of water when available and will often spend time on preening when leaving the nest or after copulation. They sometimes rest on the ground with the tarsi laid flat on the ground and at other times may rest on one leg.
Healthy adult birds have few predators. Some species of tapeworm and trematodes have been described as endoparasites.
The diet of the lapwing includes a range of insects, snails and other invertebrates, mostly picked from the ground. They may also feed on some grains. They feed mainly during the day but they may also feed at night. They may sometimes make use of the legs to disturb insect prey.
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 jayega (“can the pee-wit support the heavens?”) is used when referring to persons undertaking tasks beyond their ability or strength.
In parts of Rajasthan it is believed that the laying of eggs by the lapwing on high ground was an indication of good rains to come. The eggs are known to be collected by practitioners of folk medicine.