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The family of lapwings at RSPB Pulborough Brooks in Sussex

Lapwing with chicks. <i>(Image: Mike Jerome)</i>
Lapwing with chicks. (Image: Mike Jerome)

In a new column the RSPB give us an insight into the birds migrating to Sussex for a ‘balmy winter’ and the fate of four Lapwing chicks born last spring

It’s a frosty morning and I take a walk down the hedgerow-lined trail that leads to my favourite place on the nature reserve – Hanger View. Winter is perhaps the time that the wetlands at Pulborough Brooks are at their most spectacular, bustling with activity as the reserve has seen an influx of birds arrive from Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia, who come to seek out the relatively balmy conditions of a Sussex winter.

I arrive at the viewpoint and watch an array of dabbling ducks going about their business; herds of colourful Wigeon – a mass of orange, chestnut, pink, grey and white – graze the wet meadows gently whistling as they waddle. Zippy little Teal inhabit the nooks and crannies at the edges of the pools and handsome Pintails parade in the deeper water.

Suddenly, this peaceful scene is interrupted – chaos ensues as thousands of ducks and Lapwings and other wading birds take to the air, swirling around in panic. It must be a Peregrine Falcon. And there she is, sharp pointed wings and powerful wing beats as she scythes through the whirling mass. This time she returns to her favourite perch in the big Willow empty-taloned – even the fastest bird in the world has to work hard for her breakfast. Time to head back to the visitor centre and warm up with a cup of tea before we open and welcome visitors to the nature reserve for the day.

Great British Life: Lapwing with her chicksLapwing with her chicks (Image: Mike Jerome)

As the water levels on the wetland recede at the start of spring the meadows are criss-crossed with ditches and peppered with pools. This forms the perfect conditions for wading birds like Lapwing to breed. Scanning across the brooks you’ll spot these black and white birds tumbling in an aerial display. We have more ‘common’ names for Lapwing than any other British bird – here in Sussex, it is probably best known as the ‘Peewit’, a nod to the calls they make as they display. From a distance, Lapwings appear to have black and white plumage, but a closer inspection reveals rich iridescent purples and bottle green.

In the spring of 2023, we were delighted to welcome back one of our own, a female Lapwing who hatched on the reserve in 2018 and was ringed by expert licensed ornithologists who put a unique numbered metal ring on her leg. Bird ringing allows us to monitor individual birds and tells us about their life stories, migration patterns and threats to their survival. This Lapwing returned to the reserve to raise her own brood last year and we watched as her four adorable chicks grew and successfully fledged, showing how important it is to look after the special places where they live.

There is always something exciting to see at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, no matter the season. In spring you can hear Nightingales singing on the reserve, while summer will see the pathway lined with spikes of Purple Loosestrife flowers, warblers singing from the reed-fringed ditches and dragonflies with jewel-like colours and lace-like wings patrolling the waterways.

Under RSPB management the wetlands at Pulborough Brooks have become of international importance for vulnerable wildlife, like our Lapwing, and we think it’s a pretty important place for people too, where you can connect with nature and enjoy spectacular views of the Sussex countryside.

To plan a visit or discover events at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, visit rspb.org.uk



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