Breeding ecology of yellow- Wattled lapwing Vanellus malabaricus in the Kole Wetlands of Thrissur, Kerala

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Breeding ecology of yellow- Wattled lapwing Vanellus malabaricus in the Kole Wetlands of Thrissur, Kerala

P. Greeshma and E.A. Jayson

Published Chapter in Advances in Fish And Wildlife ecology And Biology — Vol. 7 Page 225

Abstract

Lapwings belong to the family Charadriidae of the avian order Charadriiformes. Yellow-wattled Lapwing is an uncommon resident bird inhabiting a variety of open lowland habitats like dry areas, bare lands, fallow fields and the fringes of wetlands. It has a shorter stature compared with that of Red-wattled Lapwing and is characterized by the presence of bright yellow fleshy lappets above and in front of eyes. The present study on Yellow-wattled Lapwing was carried out in the Kole wetlands of Thrissur, Kerala (Ramsar Site) (Latitude: 10º31’22” N and Longitude: 76º 10’14” E); about 7 km to the West of Thrissur city. The study was conducted from 2015 January to June 2015 for a period of 6 months. The observations on nests, foraging and anthropogenic factors acting as the stress factors towards breeding and hatching success were made using spotting scope (10x- 45x) and binocular (7 X 50). Video clips were also been made for understanding of the behavioral aspects (Sony HDR PJ 410). Two types of nests; one with a collection of tiny pebbles in the completely open areas and second type in the middle of small grassy patches were recorded for the species. Adult birds never left its foraging cum breeding ground during any time of the day. Breeding period were from March to May. The eggs were laid in the nests which are highly camouflaged. Dumping of both organic and inorganic waste, man-made fires, cattle, stray dogs, usage of the area as a playground and bike racing are the major threats confronted by the species. Hatching success of Yellow-wattled Lapwing in this breeding season was 44 per cent.

Keywords: Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Nesting, Breeding success, Threats, Kerala, India.

Introduction

Birds are an essential component of human inhabitations, mountains, oceans, Ice lands and virtually in each and every corner. However, few birds are characterized by their unusually veiled presence. Yellow-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus) is one such bird (Gupta and Kaushik, 2012). The endemic Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus is found in most parts of the Indian Subcontinent (Sethi et al., 2010). Yellow-wattled Lapwing is an uncommon resident bird inhabiting a variety of open lowland habitats like dry areas, bare lands, fallow fields and the fringes of wetlands. It has a shorter stature compared with that of Red-wattled Lapwing and is characterized by the presence of bright yellow fleshy lappets above and in front of eyes. Its habitats preferences include any sort of open ground, dry fields and the largest concentrations are found in and near wetlands fringes (Kumar, 2015). They make short distance movement in response to rain. It is obligate visual forager, meaning catch its prey at the substrate boundary layers, by picking small invertebrates from the surface or from low vegetation cover. Yellow-wattled Lapwing plays a prominent role in ecosystems. The Yellow-wattled Lapwing contributes to maintaining ecosystem food chain because they regulate and maintain the populations of many invertebrates (Pests) which are harmful for agricultural crops (Adesh and Amita, 2015). Only few workers have so far focused attention on Yellow-wattled lapwing (Jayakar and Spurway, 1965, 1968; Dhindsa, 1983; Santharam, 1995, Sethi et al., 2010, Gupta and Kaushik, 2012). Even though Lapwing studies from Calicut University campus was reported (Vijayagopal, 1991) no one has studied Yellow-wattled Lapwing in the context of threats to its nesting in Kerala.

Study Area and Methods

The Kole Wetlands is one of the largest, highly productive and threatened wetlands in Kerala, declared as Ramsar Site in 2002. The Kole wetlands lies between 10° 20’ and 10° 40’ N latitudes and 75° 58’ and between 76° 11’ E longitudes. Avifaunal studies in various regions of Thrissur District concluded that the highest number of birds was reported from Kole wetlands (Jayson and Sivaperuman, 2005). The breeding cum foraging site of the Yellow-wattled Lapwing recorded during the present study is located in the outskirts of Pullazhi Kole wetland (Latitude: 10º31’22” N and Longitude: 76º 10’14” E); about 7 km to the West of Thrissur city. The study was conducted from 2015 January to June 2015 for a period of 6 months. The observations on nests, foraging and anthropogenic factors acting as the stress factors towards breeding and hatching success were made using spotting scope (10x- 45x) and binocular (7 X 50). Video clips were also been made for understanding of the behavioral aspects (Sony HDR PJ 410). Field survey was carried to find the nest and the eggs. Nests were spotted and identified while the bird scraped the ground for nesting, and threatening predators at nest-sites. Searches for nests were done in all parts of the study area. In addition, local inhabitants such as children, farmers, and cattle-grazers were regularly queried regarding the occurrence of the nest(s) of Yellow-wattled Lapwing in their premises or nearby areas. During breeding season, daily visit was carried out and in each visit, for each nest the number of eggs, the species and any evidence of hatching success (chicks emerging) was recorded.

Results

Yellow-wattled Lapwings were found in groups of 8-10, never more. The Yellow-wattled Lapwings make their nest in the ground, in a peculiar fashion, which is of remarkable camouflage. The locations of nests in the study area were remarkably brilliant, that they preferred the most untouched area by human beings and other animals. Commonly 2 types of nesting pattern are seen, first with a collection of tiny pebbles (Sethi et al., 2010) within which their well camouflaged eggs are laid and second type in the middle of grassy patch. Adult birds never left its foraging-cum-breeding ground during any time of the day. They fed by pecking from the ground and also from the grassy patches in the barren land. Yellow-wattled Lapwings were observed running in a cursory on ground as retreating in response to human or other intrusions. Very often they were seen feeding in a normal way. Lapwing exhibits a very strong social and territorial behaviour. It was observed that one or two individuals of the entire group scan the surroundings while the rest of the group is feeding. Their call is a sharp, plaintive ti-ee, ti-ee, which lasts for few seconds and when they are alarmed they produce sharp, high-pitched twit-twit-twit. The main food items preferred by the bird were found to be ants, beetles, termites and other invertebrates. Breeding was observed from March to May. The eggs were laid in the nests which are highly camouflaged. The clutch size of this species ranges from 2 to 3. The colour of the eggs matches the soil and pebbles with at most perfection. Thus to re-spot the nest and eggs quickly was impossible.

A total of 11 eggs were spotted out from 5 nests seen in the study area. Of these 4 eggs hatches out leading to a hatching success of 44 per cent. Later 1 death was recorded and circumstantial evidences showed that 1 egg was predated and 6 egg loss (Table 12.1). When the nests are approached, the birds make distress calls and start to fly randomly above the nesting ground. Present study area is an open land surrounded with human habitations. Increased expansion of human dwellings together with the increased human intrusions leads to the shrinkage of the Lapwing habitat. Dumping of both organic and inorganic wastes, especially building materials permanently destroys the nesting area of the species. Further, the household waste attracts the stray dogs peeping into the area. The number of stray dogs was found to be increased in the study area from 12 to 19. The movement of the stray dogs becomes a threat to the lapwing for incubating their eggs. It was also observed that dogs chasing the incubating lapwing. Even though the fledglings of lapwings are so camouflaged to the small grassy patch, one death was reported.

Amongst other principal threats to eggs of yellow-wattled lapwing in the study area, natural dangers from birds of prey (Corvus splendens, Centropus sinensis) are looming large. In several occasions it was seen that the lapwings forming a group chasing the birds in the sky in a violent and agonistic flight. Rain and flooding is another threat, as the ground level is of varying heights with hikes and depressions the summer shower caused a great tragedy.

Rain water carried the organic as well as inorganic wastes to the nesting areas of lapwing and re-dumped over there leading to the habitat destruction. After the rain, several eggs were misplaced and some were not seen. However all the impending dangers is the behavioural pattern of modern man. Prior to the usage of this area as playground, people set fire in several patches of the lapwing habitat; leading to the habitat fragmentation. It is well known that the ground-nesting birds are victims of high rate of their eggs and young ones. The exposed nests and its eggs together with the fledglings face a serious threat because of the unconscious activities of man. It’s quite incidental that the summer vacation for children and the breeding season of lapwings comes together which pose a great threat to the activities of the lapwings. Also the man-made fires, sweep out the ground fauna and flora, which was the lapwing’s foraging ground, leading to food depletion. Every nook and corner of the area was converted to cricket pitches and football courts, which disturbed the breeding lapwings in such an alarming rate. It was also seen that the presence of livestock deters the lapwings from settling on the ground for nesting and breeding. They never chose to move towards the grazing area. We observed several instances of bike racing and driving practices in the lapwing’s foraging cum breeding ground. Bike racing alters the soil level and destroys the low green patches in the soil. Queries with local inhabitants revealed that people used to collect the eggs and consume it. Altogether Yellow-wattled lapwing is being pushed into a very difficult situation day by day.

Conclusions

During nest-site selection birds consider the proximity of feeding areas, shelter and protection or camouflage against predators. The gathering of Yellow-wattled Lapwings at above study site for feeding, nesting and breeding may be due to sufficient food availability and safe shelter from predators. Human threats to ground nesting birds are either direct or indirect. The small bushes provide safe habitat for hiding the fledglings should be conserved devoid of cattle grazing. Hart et al. (2002) negatively correlated that the breeding densities of lapwing negatively correlated with the presence of livestock, and they suggested the exclusion of livestock from some areas as a desirable option in order to increase the nesting success of lapwings. Considering the difficult prevalent complex conditions, measures should be taken immediately to protect the lapwing habitat.

Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to the Director, KFRI for the facilities and infrastructure. We
wish to record our sincere thanks to KSCSTE and Plan fund. Also the authors are highly thankful to Mr. Manoj Karingamadathil, Ms. Abhirami Suresh and the local people for their unconditional support during the field survey.

References

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