Saturday 6 July 2013

Pied Lapwing; is it really a Vanellus?

First described as  Charadrius cayanus by Latham in 1790. More recently it was given its own genus Hoploxypterus (Ridgeway 1919) and then has been lumped in with the Vanellus lapwings (Bock 1958).

Pied Lapwing or Pied Plover?

It is smaller than the other South American lapwings in the genus Vanellus and does look out of place there. Southern Lapwing and Andean Lapwing (itself lumped from its own genus Ptiloscelys by Bock 1958) are bigger and more typical of the genus.

Southern Lapwing - Vanellus chilensis, Brazil.
Andean lapwing - Vanellus respendens, Peru.
Athough the Pied Lapwing's colouration resembles the patterns of the Charadrius plovers, it is much longer legged and doesn't really seem to fit there either.

Collared Plover - Charadrius collaris, Brazil. Resemblence to the Pied Lapwing is not great.
Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus, USA. Of the Charadrius plovers in the americas, this
strikingly patterned  and long legged species most resembles the Pied Lapwing .

The taxonomic debate continues; looking at the SACC site It seems to me that the weight of scientific opinion over the years favours Hoploxypterus (Ridgway 1919, Peters 1934, Pinto 1938, Hellmayr and Conover 1948, Phelps and Phelps 1958, Meyer de Schauense 1970, Blake 1977, Heverschmidt and Mees 1994), while only one (Bock 1958) places it in Vanellus, what was it that made this one work (Bock 1958), that goes against the grain, so influencial? Two more recent works (Stauch 1978 and Fjeldsa and Nielsen 1989) have recommended returning it to Hoploxypterus, partly because it was closer to Charadrius than Vanellus. Most recently Livesey (2010) recommended resurrection of the monotypic genus too and the SACC have asked for proposals on this subject, so maybe things will change back. For what it is worth, my opinion, albeit completely unscientific and based on the 'jizz' or 'feel' of the bird, is that this species belongs neither in Vanellus, nor Charadrius but should have its own monotypic genus, Hoploxypterus.

Vanellus, Charadrius or Hoploxyterus?
What then of its English name? For years I referred to this as Pied Plover and only recently changed to using Lapwing as that had become the norm with standarisation. Presumably if the thing is deemed to be a Charadrius it'll return to being a plover, but what about if it retains its own genus? Is it then a lapwing or a plover, will I get to rejoice in getting to call this bird Pied Plover again or better still how about Pied Lapwing-Plover?

Pied Lapwing-Plovers in flight. Now there's a good name for them!


  1. Taxonomy is never going to be stable!

    1. Thanks for your comment David. That is very true, indeed the whole concept of putting an evolutionary process into boxes is quite absurd really. But it does provide us birders with hours of amusement and conversation material. :-)