By Charlotte Owen
The lapwing is not a bird you'd expect to see on a roundabout in Crawley or grass verge in central Shoreham - but during the recent icy blast of Arctic weather, these hungry birds were spotted in a variety of unusual locations, searching for food. Their typical habitat is rural farmland and winter flocks are normally seen foraging on pastures and freshly-ploughed fields, as well as estuaries and mudflats along the coast, snatching worms and other invertebrates from the soil's surface. This food can be hard to come by in colder weather, when earthworms sensibly dig themselves deeper down into the ground, and if the soil is frozen or covered in snow then feeding becomes particularly difficult for the lapwing, whose short bill isn't designed for digging. Urban areas are often a few degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside thanks to all the concrete and tarmac and human activity, so there's a greater chance of finding some unfrozen ground to feed on, perhaps even helpfully cleared of snow – even if it happens to be a busy park or school playing field.
You'll know a lapwing if you see one thanks to the distinctive iridescent-black and white plumage and jaunty black head crest. Equally distinctive is the squeaky 'peewit' call, and to many this bird is known as the Peewit. Other local names range from Green Plover to Lappy, Toppyup, Pie-Wipe and Tieve's Nacket, which means thieve's imp. Strangely, the lapwing has a long-running association with deception and was described by Chaucer as "false...and full of trecherye" - possibly because parent birds were thought to feign a broken wing to lure predators away from their nests.In the 17th Century the term 'plover' was applied to prostitutes and other 'deceitful women' and even today the association remains, as the collective noun for a group of lapwing is 'a deceit'. The name lapwing itself is far more flattering though; it is derived from an Old English word meaning 'leap with a flicker' and a large flock does seem to do just that when the birds take flight in a flurry of black and white wingbeats.