New series; Breeding waders in South America Pt 1 – Lapwings

Southern Lapwing © Elis Simpson

South America is well known for its many unusual bird families, some of which occur nowhere else; antbirds, hummingbirds, ovenbirds, woodcreepers, manakins and cotingas all spring readily to mind. As a result, when planning trips to the region few people will prioritise waders among their list of most wanted birds, unless they are like us of course.
However, there is an amazing number of waders to be found, many of which are Nearctic migrants but perhaps surprisingly, there are 35 species of wader to be found breeding in the region, 30 of them are endemic.
There are twenty-five species of Lapwing around the world, which all differ to some extent, and not just in their plumage. Some sport a crest at the back of the head, others have carpel spurs, others still show wattles or lappets and the yet others lack a hind toe. Interestingly no species has all four of these features, but four species have none at all.
Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis and Andean Lapwings V. resplendens are, more or less, endemic to South America. In times past they were both entirely endemic, but one of them, the Southern Lapwing, is expanding its range northward into Central American and the Caribbean making it the only example of a lapwing living in North America. Go back even further than recent history to prehistoric times and we find that the Southern Lapwing did already exist even further north. A fossil of this species was found in Florida from the late Pleistocene period. Originally it was named as a different species, but as it is indistinguishable for the extant birds it is now considered to be the same species. That said, California played host to a completely different, and now extinct, species called Vanellus downsi which is closely related to the Southern Lapwing.

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