After sunset, most birds are prepared to get some sleep. The volatile sulphur-crested cockatoos cease their screeching, the galahs “zip-zip” their way to bed, and even the restless flycatchers actually take a rest.
But the Masked Lapwings (vanellus miles) are always on guard, giving out alarm calls day and night.
That’s because they live and nest in open spaces where their young are always under threat. The pair that lives near the house in the old orchard paddock were outraged a few weeks ago when a flock of sheep were pushed in to eat the grass down. The birds ranted ineffectually for two days, angrily pacing on their long legs among the completely uninterested grazing sheep.
As a child I used to wonder at the demented calls they gave, a machine-gun cackle that carried above the midnight roar of the river over the rocks. I pictured a large creature up in the trees or flying about, not a ground bird marching about its territory.
Now I find it soothing to hear their night calls, although I preferred it when I thought they were only laughing, not guarding.
George Roderick took these lovely pictures showing their wing spurs, which gave them the old common name of “Spur-winged Plover”. There is an exciting popular theory that the spurs are poisonous and the birds are out to stab you with them when they run at you or swoop. Perhaps they have some value to the bird. Unlike chickens they don’t seem to get taken by foxes, so their defense methods may be better than you’d expect.