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Threats and challenges


In the first AEWA Sociable Lapwing International Single Species Action Plan (Tomkovich and Lebedeva 2004), the following threats of high importance were listed:

1- Reduced grazing by domestic livestock leading to decreased habitat availability. 

Grazing pressure has significantly increased since the year 2000, and large areas of apparently suitable habitat are unoccupied each year, so reduced habitat availability is no longer considered a threat in Kazakhstan (Kamp et al 2009). However, in Russia grazing pressure has not been increasing throughout the same period. On the contrary, it has been decreasing especially in western and northern parts of the steppe zone of Russia (Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Omsk Regions). As a result the former traditional breeding areas of Sociable Lapwing in those regions are largely unsuitable.

2 - Predation by corvids

Predation by corvids has been ruled out as a major threat according to results of recent research on the breeding grounds.

3 - Trampling by sheep and cattle.

Trampling by livestock (especially sheep) is considered an ongoing threat, however with minor effects on overall breeding success. However, future changes in livestock management could have a significant impact on breeding populations in the future, particularly through reducing breeding success.

Since the Tomkovich and Lebedeva (2004) plan, hunting at stopover sites on the migration routes has been identified as a key threat to the species. Of particular concern is hunting during the return migration when birds are returning to breed. Based on our current knowledge, hunting should be treated as the key threat to Sociable Lapwing.


Direct threats, causing reduced hatching success and high mortality of chicks and adults

1 - Hunting

Large-scale hunting at stopover sites currently appears to be the most important threat influencing the species’ survival. There is evidence from known stopover sites in north-eastern Syria and some areas in Iraq from 2008 and 2009 that Sociable Lapwings are widely hunted by local hunters and visiting falconers from the Gulf States (Hofland and Keijl 2008; A. Aidek, S. Jbour,  M. Salim and O. Al-Sheikly pers comm). The hunting has been reported on spring migration when Sociable Lapwings congregate in large numbers, and this is of particular concern as these are birds returning to breed in central Asia.

The reasons that Sociable Lapwing are targeted are unclear, but it seems that hunting pressure is a combination of subsistence hunting from locals, to sport for visiting hunters. The species is considered to be quite an easy prey for falcons, probably replacing other bird species traditionally hunted (but now much depleted) such as Macqueen’s (Asian Houbara) Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii and sandgrouse Pterocles spp.  Subsistence hunting of migratory waterfowl could be important in Pakistan, but there is no data to substantiate this.

2 - Nest trampling by livestock                                

Clutch trampling can reduce nest survival significantly in some years. Most trampling incidents are likely to be caused by sheep and goats due to the way dense flocks are driven at high speeds often in close proximity to breeding colonies. Horses and cattle seem to be of minor threat as these move mostly in loose herds and appear to avoid stepping on nests (J Kamp pers obs).

3 - Predation of eggs and chicks

Predation varies from year to year but does not appear to be a limiting factor in either nest or chick survival. Evidence collected from nest cameras suggests that nocturnal mammals are key predators, rather than domestic dogs or cats, and that corvids are not as important as previously thought.


Indirect threats causing habitat loss and low reproductive success

1 - Reduced habitat availability for the species         

Breeding areas

A strong link between livestock grazing intensity and Sociable Lapwing nest density has been shown recently (Kamp et al 2009), and livestock numbers are therefore considered a proxy for the amount of habitat available for Sociable Lapwings. Animal stocks collapsed after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, but numbers of all herded animals are strongly increasing again in Kazakhstan since the year 2000 (Kazakhstan State Statistics Agency 2009). Habitat modelling has shown that the amount of suitable habitat available for Sociable Lapwings is currently much greater than the area currently occupied (Kamp et al 2009, Murzakhanov et al 2008). This is caused by current low livestock mobility and concentration effects around villages, leading to increased grazing intensity compared to Soviet times (Milner-Gulland et al 2006). High stock densities around villages were made possible by large-scale abandonment of arable fields and seed grass land surrounding human habitation in Soviet times after 1991.

The current situation is therefore rather beneficial for the Sociable Lapwing in Kazakhstan and reduced habitat availability is not considered to be problematic in the short term (5–10 years). However, there is recent evidence for a likely decrease in available habitat within the next decade: livestock numbers in some regions of Kazakhstan are stable or even decreasing due to improving living standard (Kamp et al 2011, 2012). Furthermore, mitigation measures to avoid overgrazing around settlements are being introduced  in Kazakhstan leading to higher stock mobility and less grazing pressure. Kamp et al (2011) modelled a 30% decline for Sociable Lapwing until 2020 based on quantitative targets to reduce grazing pressure in Korgalzhyn region, Central Kazakhstan.

Stop-over/wintering areas

While there appear to be few immediate threats to stopover and wintering sites, there are potential changes that may impact on habitat availability in the future. Continued expansion of urban and agricultural areas in Kazakhstan and Russia may reduce habitat suitability for birds congregating in post-breeding flocks and in the early stages of migration. However, the mobility of Sociable Lapwings suggest that this is not an immediate threat. Indeed, some areas managed intensively for agriculture, for example, arable fields around Manych wetlands in south-west Russia, appear to be well used by both foraging and roosting Sociable Lapwings (Sheldon pers obs).

Increased spread of tree planting on the Asian wintering grounds, India and Pakistan, is a potential threat due to the species’s preference for open habitats in which to forage and roost. For example, there has been significant effort on raising plantations in the northern Pakistan, particularly Gilgit Baltistan Province, since mid-1980s.

Future land use change linked to irrigation schemes could see substantial changes in habitat suitability.  However, it is unclear whether some of these changes could be detrimental or indeed beneficial. There is some observational evidence from Turkey, that Sociable Lapwings utilize irrigated crops for feeding, and locations of satellite tagged birds in Saudi Arabia are in areas of irrigated wheat crops.

There is the potential threat of increased disturbance from oil and gas exploration across the Sociable Lapwing range. It is likely that there will be increased exploration in the Middle East and parts of Sudan, as well as north-western part of India.  

2 - Degradation of habitat

Stop-over/wintering areas

The key threat leading to habitat degradation is a combination of changing rainfall patterns and the subsequent grazing conditions. Notably, in the Syrian steppes some areas where significant numbers of birds were recorded in 2007 appear to have been degraded through intensive grazing and drought conditions, and few birds were located there in 2010 (H. Hmidan pers comm). Similarly, on the wintering grounds in Sudan, substantial changes in vegetation cover have been observed between survey years (2008 and 2009) (I. M. Hashim pers comm). The impact that this may be having on Sociable Lapwings is unclear, but could result in birds returning to the breeding grounds in poor condition, so this needs further research.

The number of irrigation projects has increased in countries such as Turkey, India and Pakistan and this may lead to a change in habitat quality. Conversely, irrigation could be a potential benefit and this needs further monitoring and research.  


Knowledge limitations

Breeding areas

1 - Low return rate of colour-ringed birds.  

Potentially hunting pressure leads to loss of colour-ringed birds or colour-ringed birds might return to other areas – movements within the breeding range are not fully understood.

2 - Future trends in land use and their implications for habitat availability are poorly understood.

Possible scenarios on land use change have been developed recently and linked to Sociable Lapwing population development, but only for a restricted area.

3 - The generality of the results on breeding biology and species’ survival based on data collected in a relatively small study area in Central Kazakhstan is not clear.

4 - The limits of the species’ distribution are not clear and large knowledge gaps on numbers and distribution still exist.

Stopover/wintering sites

1 - The current hunting pressure has not been quantified reliably, future trends in hunting pressure are not clear.

2 - Locations of potential further wintering and stopover sites are unknown, especially on the eastern flyway.

3 - The migration strategy is not fully understood especially regarding differences in spring and autumn migration.

4 - Knowledge on movements within the wintering areas is poor.

5 - Knowledge of the species’ ecology during migration and wintering is poor.

6 - The species has not been identified as high priority conservation species in all range states.

Demographic parameters are insufficiently known to undertake Population Viability Analysis

1 - Robust population estimate is missing

2 - Estimates of annual survival of adults and juveniles are currently lacking due to a low number of resightings of marked individuals

3 - Generation length is not known

4 - The existence and size of a non-breeding population is unknown.


For full references, please visit the references page.

Shot sociable lapwings
Hunting of Sociable Lapwing