Metaphors for lapwings are getting harder to find.
That’s because these days, retro games aside, the sort of electronic bleeps, pings and whistles that handheld game consoles used to make have been pretty much consigned to history, and what else can you possibly compare the sound of a group of lapwing to? Perhaps a Pachinko game parlour or the floor of a Las Vegas Casino? You get the idea.
I was at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Langford Lakes reserves recently, watching a group of lapwing. There were perhaps forty in the scrapes in front of a hide, distributed across two tiny sandbars. It was, at times, a bitterly cold day, and for the life of me I couldn’t work out why the lapwings who were standing with their feet in freezing water didn’t up and fly the ten feet to the nearest unoccupied sandbar. Probably, the safety represented by the flock outweighed the risk of the avian equivalent of hypothermia. There was plenty of room to my eyes amongst the flock, but humans aren’t the only creatures with a concept of personal space, and the occasional squabbles that broke out illustrated the literal pecking order. Those lower down were left standing out in the cold. It was aphorism heaven. And the other thing was, the lapwings weren’t doing anything. Occasional squabbles seemed to erupt out of thin air, as if two lapwings could read each other’s thoughts and didn’t like what they found, but for the most part they just stood there. No eating. No drinking. No breaking into a sudden American Smooth or a quick rendition of Depeche Mode’s greatest hits to ease the boredom.
But then the moorhen showed up. The lapwings stood, and the moorhen fed, pecking grains of heavens knows what from the sand. Head down, like a small robot hoover, it slowly worked its way along the sandbar, until, also like robot hoover, it came up against an obstacle. The obstacle was a lapwing. At that point the comparison ended. A robot hoover would have bounced off and gone in a different direction. The moorhen didn’t. The moorhen attacked.
I’ve seen moorhens fight, but I’ve never seen this before. Did it mistake the lapwing’s rather flamboyant head plumes as a tasty worm? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The lapwing was simply in the way. There was plenty of room on the sandbar, but this was the bit the moorhen wanted. It yanked and pecked and as soon as it stopped, the lapwing lifted off the sandbar and found somewhere else to be cold and miserable – about six inches behind and to the left of the moorhen.
So what did I learn? I learnt that Moorhens are surprisingly aggressive. I learnt that both moorhens and lapwings are really, really wedded to small patches of land. And I learned that if there is reincarnation, I’d rather come back as something other than a lapwing. I’ve seen snails seem have more fun.