If you've ever wondered about those frantic, screechy bird calls at unearthly hours of the night, here’s the culprit. It's the Red-Wattled Lapwing, commonly called the Did-He-Do-It or Pity-To-Do-It Bird.
These Red-Wattled Lapwings (shall we call them Reds for now?) are found all the way from Turkey in the west to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the east. Seen in open-country grasslands, dried waterbeds and ploughed fields, they live close to lakes and ponds, hanging out in twos or threes around the waterbodies. During winters, they get together in flocks ranging from 25 to 200 – like a party to which few are invited but all are welcome!
Eccentricities That Make Them Unique
One unique habit of the Reds is running fast in short spurts and halting suddenly without any grace. Running is easy given their long legs, and they halt when they find insects to eat. Another habit is flying about at unearthly hours, waking everyone in the vicinity. I’m just kidding! They actually feed at night and are wide awake on full-moon nights, when you are most likely to hear their ‘deedeedooit’ calls.
Lapwings are known for their unusual nests. They simply lay their eggs in slight depressions in the ground and the nest is basically a few pebbles, or goat or hare droppings, strewn around to make a ring. The exceptional camouflage patterns on the eggs and chicks are the sole protection from the egg stage to fledgling stage. They match the soil to such perfection, you wouldn’t spot one even if you were standing right next to it.
Males are quite the gentlemen, taking over the duty of sitting on eggs around noon while the females cool off in the water. On scorching days, these clever birds soak their belly feathers so the eggs don’t get overheated.
Reds are fiercely protective of their young and are ceaselessly vigilant. They are good distractors and clamorously lead a predator away from the nest. When a parent warns of danger, the chicks instinctively hide in the plumage of the parent where you can’t tell them apart. But however alert they are, almost half the eggs from every batch are lost to mongooses and crows. These noisy birds spot intrusion early on and ring out their ‘he-will-do-it’ calls warning prey animals to scamper to safety.
Local Beliefs and Life in the Cities
Red-wattled lapwings were once so common all over the country, they have local beliefs built around them. It was believed that Reds sleep on their backs with their legs sticking up; showing off or a possible decoy playing dead perhaps? This led to the saying “Can the peewit support the heavens!” – said when someone is about to take on a massive responsibility. Rajasthani folks believe that good rains are coming when Reds lay their eggs on high ground.
In other parts, practitioners of folk medicine collect eggs of the RWLs, but seriously guys, these eggs already have enough predators without our contribution!
While their population is decreasing drastically in other countries, Reds have managed to survive well in peninsular India. With disappearing open lands in cities, these clever birds have begun to make their nests on rooftops. So, if you see a clutch of eggs on your terrace, don’t panic – they haven’t fallen out of a tree!
Photo story by Nanditha Chandraprakash | 5 Photos | Edited by Dominic D’Cruz