Iris Charalambidou

The Spur-winged Lapwing, an Afro-tropical bird occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, southeast Europe and the Middle East, was first recorded in Cyprus in 1820. Up until the 1990s it was a common migrant, with few overwintering and one breeding record. While recent data indicated it had become a regular winter visitor and breeding bird, no island-wide assessment of the distribution and population size of this species had ever been carried out despite the relatively small size of Cyprus (9,250 km2 in area).

Bearing in mind that it is one of the defining species for the designation of wetland areas within the Natura-2000 protected areas network of the European Union (EU), and is included in the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, information on its status is relevant for nature conservation in Cyprus, the EU, and the Middle East region in general. 

Therefore, monthly counts of this species at the main wetlands of Cyprus was conducted, monitoring up to 27 areas over a two-year period, from July 2007 to June 2009. In addition, breeding surveys for five consecutive years, from April to August 2005-2009 was performed. Additional data were obtained from published records. The monitored wetlands included coastal salt lakes, artificial dams, brackish and freshwater inland and coastal lakes and marshes, and sewage treatment plants. 

Spur-winged Lapwings were present in Cyprus throughout the year and were concentrated in the central and eastern parts of the island. According to published literature, fewer birds frequent small, scattered, inland locations and migration hotspots along the south coast. Most birds were observed from the end of the breeding season to the start of autumn passage, when more than 200 individuals were recorded. Autumn passage migration with flocks of up to 30 (occasionally up to 50) birds were counted at some areas while a population of up to 52 birds over-wintered. Spring passage migration was also recorded but with lower numbers than in autumn.

The breeding season extended from March to early August, with second and possibly third clutches laid at some areas, and records of one up to 24 breeding pairs at different wetlands. Compared to the 1990s, the breeding population in Cyprus has increased with estimates of 10 breeding pairs in 2003 to nearly 70 pairs in 2009. This is attributed to a number of reasons: the recent population growth and range expansion of this species in the Middle East, partly due to the creation of water reservoirs, particularly sewage treatment plants, which guarantee access to water all year round; increased effort and wider coverage of wetland areas by conservation bodies in Cyprus; and increasingly warmer winters in Cyprus. While Spur-winged Lapwings have been quick to take advantage of the creation of permanent waterbodies, a multitude of threats need to be addressed to ensure their conservation. 

Dr. Iris Charalambidou
Department of Life and Health Sciences
School of Sciences and Engineering
University of Nicosia