Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)

Cover image by Sybrand Venter – Carnarvon district, Northern Cape – BirdPix No. 233365


The Blacksmith Lapwing is a boldly marked and unmistakable species. The distinctive black, white and grey colouration combined with its loud and bold behaviour make it a conspicuous bird wherever it occurs.

The sexes are alike.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – Near Jongensfontein, Western Cape
Photo by Gerald Gaigher

In flight the black flight feathers contrast strongly with the grey wing coverts.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – Robben Island, Western Cape
Photo by Itxaso Quintana

Juveniles are duller and mottled brown and black above. They are also mottled blackish-brown and grey on parts where the adults are coloured in black.

Juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) 
Near Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Lappies Labuschagne

Status and Distribution

The Blacksmith Lapwing has an African range, breeding from Kenya and Angola southwards. It occurs over most of Southern Africa. The distribution is fragmented in northeastern Zimbabwe, the Namib Desert and the Northern Cape Province.h are also conspicuous gaps in the distribution in Lesotho, the Transkei and the most arid parts of the Kalahari in Botswana.

The Blacksmith Lapwing is not threatened. The species underwent a dramatic population and range increase during the 1900s.

SABAP2 distribution map for Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – June 2023. Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The Blacksmith Lapwing is an inhabitant of marshes, moist, short grasslands and the shores of dams, pans, lakes, rivers and estuaries. It also inhabits areas of mown grass such as sports fields, golf courses and airports. It feeds on grasslands, both natural and irrigated. Due to its reliance on moist habitats it does not enter desert, forest or mountainous habitats, except where artificial wetlands or grasslands occur.

Typical habitat near Manguzi, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Blacksmith Lapwing is usually encountered singly, in pairs or small groups. However, non-breeding birds may gather in daytime roosts of up to 500 in exposed and safe places such as sandspits or islands. They are alert and noisy, especially when breeding. Typically among the first species, alongside the Black-winged Stilt, to detect an intruder. Once a potential threat is spotted they begin bobbing and calling from ground, they will then fly aggressively over the intruder while calling loudly and persistently, until the threat has been seen off.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – Rhorick, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Pamela Kleiman

They are aggressive towards other birds particularly during the breeding season when they chase many other species such as Black-winged Stilts and other waders, gulls, herons, crows, starlings and raptors. Performs aggressive threat displays on the ground that are intended to intimidate and startle an enemy, for example, holding the spread wings forwards, to repel attacks from birds of prey.

The Blacksmith Lapwing has a broad diet that includes many small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates like molluscs, crustaceans, worms and insects.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – Near Riversdale, Western Cape
Photo by Johan Van Rooyen

Searches for food by standing or walking slowly while scanning for potential prey before dashing in to peck at it. Most foraging takes place at or near the waters edge but occasionally wades into deeper water, picking prey from the water surface. Inspects dung for insect larvae, flicking over cowpats with its bill. Also forages among kelp debris washed up along the coast.

Blacksmith Lapwings are monogamous, but may be polygynous on rare occasions. The breeding pair are are strongly territorial and defend a nesting territory of at least 3.6ha from predators, intruders and rivals.

Nest sites are usually close to water or in seasonally flooded areas. The Nest is a shallow scrape on the ground that is usually lined with vegetation and then ringed with stones for disguise. In very wet sites, the nest is a more substantial mound of vegetation in order to raise the eggs off the damp ground. They do not re-use the same nest site. Breeding can take place year-round, but seasonal peaks vary from region to region.

Clutch size ranges from 1 to 4 eggs (usually 3 or 4). The eggs are dark yellow-red to brownish-yellow and boldly blotched and spotted in black and grey. Incubation commences once the full clutch has been laid. Both sexes share the incubation duties which can last up to 33 days.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) eggs are are laid in a shallow depression and are well camouflaged .
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Hatching is fairly synchronous and the newly hatched chicks are precocial, leaving the nest within hours of hatching. They are very attentive parents and both parents take turns guarding the chicks while the other is away foraging. Chicks initially remain near the nest but gradually begin to wander further afield as they grow. The parents remain vigilant throughout, and warn the chicks at the first hint of danger. Once the parents sound the alarm the chicks crouch and freeze until the threat has passed. The adults may also attempt to lead a predator away with distraction displays.

Fledglings remain with the adults during the incubation of a second brood, and are only driven away when that next brood hatches.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Fountain Hill Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Colin Summersgill

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Colin Summersgill, Gerald Gaigher, Itxaso Quintana, Johan Van Rooyen, Lappies Labuschagne, Pamela Kleiman and Sybrand Venter is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Bontkiewiet (Afrikaans); Ndudumela (Zulu); Comela-khwatsi (Tswana); Smidsplevier (Dutch); Vanneau armé (French); Waffenkiebitz, Schmiedekiebitz (German); Abibe-preto-e-branco (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at

Bird identificationbirding

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus) – Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape
Photo by Zenobia van Dyk
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!