Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis

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




Southern Lapwings are exclusively ground dwelling birds, although there is anecdotal information of Southern Lapwings perched on top of hedgerows (ESAS pers. obs.). Southern Lapwings will move around their home ranges mostly by walking or by short flights (approximately 10-20 m). Short flights are used for moving between feeding patches. During the nonbreeding season individuals fly long distances between different foraging sites.


Southern Lapwings wait for prey items to reveal themselves on the surface of the water or by moving in the substrate. They can be seen engaging in a characteristic plover-like behavior during foraging events, when they stand on one foot and execute trembling movements with the other foot. The trembling behavior seems to enhance their chance of acquiring a prey item by flushing prey.


Southern Lapwings use highly ritualized displays when involved in territorial encounters. Territory owners and intruders will run towards each other in a head-down, tail-up posture. Upon meeting they adopt an upright posture, erecting the crest and making chattering tero-tero calls (ESAS pers. obs.).

Sexual Behavior

Southern Lapwings have been described as pair breeders (monogamous; Ligon and Burt 2004), as well as cooperative breeders (Walters and Walters 1980) and more recently as having a flexible genetic mating system and variable breeding social structure (Saracura et al. 2008).

Southern Lapwings copulating. Photograph taken in Brasília, DF, Brazil
Saracura and colleagues (2008) observed that socially monogamous pairs also were genetically monogamous (i.e., did not engage in extra-pair behavior). However, Saracura and colleagues (2008) also observed groups composed of three or four adults where there was genetic evidence of mixed paternity in 18.8% of broods and 9.8% of chicks. Saracura and colleagues (2008) were not able to identify the fathers of mixed broods. It remains to be shown whether mixed paternity in the Southern Lapwing is a result of social polyandry (one female paired with two or more males) or if females are engaging in extra-group copulations.

Social and interspecific behavior

During the nonbreeding season, Southern Lapwings can be found in large foraging flocks composed of as many as 105 individuals (Maruyama et al. 2009). As the breeding season approaches, Southern Lapwings leave the large foraging flocks and start to form breeding groups (3-4 adults) or pairs. These breeding units remain together throughout the breeding season (Saracura et al. 2008, ESAS pers. obs.).


The Southern Caracara (Caracara plancus) is a  predator of Southern Lapwings, with one reported record of an adult predation (Myers 1978). Southern Lapwings will display defense behaviors towards caracaras. This defense behavior consists of a flight towards the potential predator, accompanied by alarm calls and mobbing. In some instances alarm calling attracts other Southern Lapwings from neighboring territories that join the mobbing individual (ESAS pers. obs.).

Adult Southern Lapwing mobbing a potential predator (photographer) that is close to the nest scrape. Photograph taken in Brasilia, DF, Brazil
During the breeding season, parents produce alarm calls that cause their chicks to crouch in the vegetation when a predator is approaching. Chicks will remain hidden during the time parents are vocalizing, after which chicks resume their activities. Southern lapwings are also known to present a ‘broken-wing’ display to attract ground dwelling predators (humans, dogs, cats, etc…) away from their nest.

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.