Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis

  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Charadriidae
  • Polytypic: 4 subspecies
  • Authors: Eduardo S. A. Santos


Distinguishing Characteristics

The Southern Lapwing easily can be recognized. It is a large plover, common both to rural and urban areas. The filamentous crest, black face and broad black patch, its alarm call, very aggressive mobbing behavior, and wing spurs make it a well-known species. The lack of a similar species within the distribution of the Southern Lapwing makes these characteristics very reliable ways of identifying this species.

Similar Species

Southern Lapwings are not easily confused with other species in its range. It is important to point out, however, that on the western range of the distribution of Southern Lapwings (from southwestern Colombia to south Chile and northwestern Argentina) there is a possibility of overlap with a congeneric species, the Andean Lapwing (Vanellus resplendens). Southern and Andean Lapwings can be easily distinguished by plumage characteristics. Andean Lapwings lack the crest and do not possess the black breast and facial patch. Furthermore Andean Lapwings typically occur above 3000 m, and so only very rarely do the two species occur together.

Detailed Description

Southern Lapwings are sexually monochromatic. Adult Southern Lapwings have gray brown upperparts with a white belly and undertail coverts. The upper parts of the wings present a bronze green iridescent sheen. A black breast band extends up to the bird’s forecrown. A white patch of feathers of variable size may surround the forecrown part of the badge. However, some individuals do not present any white feathers surrounding the black facial badge, instead having only the characteristic gray feathers. A very distinctive characteristic of Southern Lapwings is the black filamentous crest, which can be raised to an upright position during ritualized behaviors. Primaries and most secondaries black. On the upper surface of the wing, the greater and median coverts are white, forming a diagonal white band across the wing in flight. Also, the underwing coverts are white, contrasting with the black under surfaces of the primaries and secondaries. Rump white. Basal half of tail white, distal half black, with a narrow white tip.

Adult Southern Lapwing on territory. Note the black mask and breast patch. The crest is in the resting position, noticieable just behind the head. Photograph taken in Brasília, DF, Brazil.
Chicks are precocial and at hatching are covered with brown down speckled with black spots; the coloration of their belly plumage is white. Chicks maintain the cryptic brown plumage from the moment they hatch until they begin to molt into their juvenile plumage, before fledging. The juvenile plumage is not strikingly different from that of the adults. Juveniles can be differentiated from adults by a light striped patterning that is present over all the plumage. Buff fringes on the contour feathers of the juveniles cause the striped pattern (ESAS pers. obs.).


No information available.

Bare Parts

Adult Southern Lapwings have a red bill with a black tip. The iris and orbital rings are also red. The leg color can vary from bright red to dull black. The same is true for the wing spur color, which varies from red to dull black.


Body measurements presented below were taken by Saracura (2003) for 29 males, 20 females and 53 unsexed chicks (mean ± standard deviation). The measurements for chicks were taken on day of hatching.

Body mass (g):

Males - 266 ± 19.6

Females - 257 ± 12.9

Newly hatched chicks - 16.12 ± 1.6

Wing (mm):
Males - 233.55 ± 22.66

Females - 241.6 ± 8.28

Newly hatched chicks - 16.7 ± 1.6

Tail (mm):
Males - 106.0 ± 6.57

Females - 104.97 ± 7.38

Tarsus (mm):
Males - 88.59 ± 3.83

Females - 86.07 ± 3.74

Newly hatched chicks - 32.17 ± 1.8

Recommended Citation

Santos, E. S. A. (2010). Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.