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Habitat requirements

Breeding habitat selection and use

A detailed study on habitat selection and use in Kazakhstan has been conducted (Kamp et al 2009). Across the breeding range, Sociable Lapwings are strongly associated with domestic livestock (especially cattle, sheep and goats), as large grazers create suitable habitat conditions. Grazing intensity and density of Sociable Lapwing nests are strongly correlated in Central Kazakhstan. Current grazing patterns are very much influenced by the fact that livestock is concentrated within a radius of 4–5 (max 10) km around human settlements, so most Sociable Lapwing colonies are found within this radius. A small number of birds were also recorded on recently burnt feather grass (Stipa) steppe and fallow or abandoned cereal fields.

Habitat is selected more often in the vicinity of wetlands and especially along rivers. This might be because that the birds migrate along rivers and so discover suitable breeding habitat by rivers first, but also by the need for adults and chicks to drink and bathe on hot days.

On a smaller scale (colony level), vegetation height (very short, strongly grazed swards preferred), the cover of bare soil (optimum around 50%) and a high cover of animal dung (around 10%) are the most influential factors in habitat selection. The pronounced preference for strongly grazed areas may be driven mainly by vegetation height. Nests are often placed in dung piles. A possible camouflaging or insulating effect of the dung has been suggested, but food availability (dung beetles, Diptera) might also be higher where dung is abundant.

Formerly occupied habitats, such as ungrazed steppe and sparsely vegetated saltpans (‘solonchaks’), seem to be virtually vacated now, possibly due to an absence of large grazing animals after the collapse of the nomadic pre-Soviet and later semi-nomadic Soviet livestock breeding system in 1991, which left vast expanses of steppe virtually ungrazed.

Co-evolution with wild ungulates has been suggested repeatedly, but it seems unlikely that these animals were able to create the preferred short swards at least during the last 50 years judging from their migration phenology, numbers and foraging behaviour (Bekenov 1998).

Breeding attempts on ploughed fields have been infrequently recorded (mostly in Russia and N Kazakhstan), and then with poor breeding success.

Habitat selection and use at stopover sites

In recent years, larger flocks of birds stopping over in Central Kazakhstan (up to 523 in July 2011) have been observed on sown wheat fields (J. Kamp, M. Koshkin pers obs). At the Russian stopover sites N of the Caucasus, the birds feed on grazed steppe and ploughed and tilled fields, but depart to freshwater and salt lakes to rest and roost (Field et al  2007, Koshkin et al 2010).

In Turkey, most birds were observed on arable fields with 10–12 cm high wheat seedlings or on ploughed fields without vegetation (some following ploughing tractors and feeding on invertebrates brought to the surface). Some birds also used extensively grazed steppe and lentil fields (Biricik et al 2009). In some years, fallow cereal fields are used by large numbers of birds (Bozdogan et al 2007).

In N Syria, mostly heavily grazed steppe areas with very sparse vegetation are visited (Hofland and Keijl 2008), rarely also semi-desert habitat and stony wadis (S. Jbour pers comm). Sociable Lapwings were frequently observed near seasonal pools (fedahs) with lush vegetation (partly grazed) after frequent rains during survey work in Syria in spring 2010 (H. Hmidan pers comm).

Smaller stopover sites in Russia and Kazakhstan were also found in pristine, mostly ungrazed steppe habitat.

Little is know of the stop-over sites en route for the birds that winter in the Indian sub-continent. Data collected from the recent satellite tracking suggest that the Indus Valley and surrounding areas with agricultural habitats and a mosaic of wetlands could be important.

Winter habitat selection and use

Most information on winter habitat selection is anecdotal or old. In Africa, in the second half of the 19th century, birds wintered mainly on burnt savannah and steppe, harvested cultivation (eg Sorghum) and cattle pastures (Heuglin 1871). Surveys in Sudan in January 2009 suggest that habitat use has not changed much since then. Flocks were discovered on rain-fed cultivated land, stubble fields, moderately grazed to severely overgrazed pastures and at road margins. Insects, but also seeds and watermelon pieces (falling from passing lorries) have been identified as food sources (I.M. Hashim and M.S. Fadlalla pers comm).

The current wintering areas in Sudan as revealed by satellite telemetry and field surveys coincide with areas of the highest livestock densities in Africa (Wint and Robinson 2007) suggesting a high importance of grazed habitat for the species also in the wintering areas.

In India, mostly arable land (ploughed, fallow, or with young cereal plants) is used, but birds are also observed wintering at wetlands (A. Rahmani pers comm).


For full references, please visit the references page.

Steppe tulips in spring
Female saiga antelope