If you haven’t been to Trinidad and Tobago, you’re missing out on a country that combines many of the best qualities of the Caribbean and South America. One attribute endowed in T&T by its geological parent Venezuela is a deep diversity of avifauna, including a lot of South American specialties. So it should come as no surprise that Southern Lapwings abound there.
The Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis) is big, beefy plover that thrives throughout South and even part of Central America. These beauties are boldly marked in gray, black, and white with iridescent flashes on their wings and seemingly glowing red eyes. Their eyes don’t actually glow, but do come off a little creepy. This effect is enhanced by the presence of wicked coral-colored carpal spurs.
Most lapwings flaunt some ostentatious feature like a wattle, crest, or spur. The Southern Lapwing’s crest is evident, but I’d never noticed its spurs until a cocky male tried to intimidate my group in the Tobago Rainforest Preserve. There we were trying to lay eyes on crackers like Blue-backed Manakin and Yellow-legged Thrush (check and check) when one bird peeled off the flock and started flashing his weapons like a true gangster.
Many lapwings have bony spurs at their carpal joints that are apparent when the birds fly. These barbs help fight off predators and competitors alike. Considering how deceptively large these waders can be, I suggest keeping a respectful distance!