The Lapwing is a large and fascinating wading bird found throughout Eurasia and recognized for its striking plumage, feathered crest, and iconic “peewit” call. The Northern Lapwing is the most common Lapwing found in much of Europe and, as such, is often considered to be the primary bird to which the Lapwing names belongs. (1)
Lapwings are called such because of the way that their wings are rounded at the tips, rather than tapered or pointed, and because their flight often looks “floppy” or “lazy.” Northern Lapwings are also referred to as “Peewits” after the sound their characteristic cry. (2)
Lapwing Symbolism and Meaning
Lapwings are often associated with drama and deception thanks to a case of mistaken identity. A group of lapwings is referred to as a “deceit.” This is very likely due to a behavior exhibited by many wading birds such as killdeer and plovers. Killdeer and similar plovers are known to take part in a behavior wherein the birds will feign injuries when predators wander too close to their nests. Hopping dramatically about with a wing dragging on the ground, the birds convincingly act as though they would make a much finer target than the hidden nest. Once the predator is led far enough away, the bird springs into action and flees. It is likely this behavior which gives groups of Lapwings the name “deceit,” but in actuality this behavior has not been recorded in Lapwings despite their similarity to the wading birds which perform it. There are other theories as to why Lapwings are called such, but this one seems to be the most credible to me. Thus, while Lapwings can represent deceit and trickery, a more apt symbolic connection can be made between Lapwings and concepts like mistaken identity and hasty judgment. (3)
Lapwings are migratory birds which cross long stretches of earth’s topography in search of suitable weather conditions throughout the year. Birds that spend their springs and summers in the British Isles can be found as far afield as India or China during the colder winter months. Because of their migratory nature, Lapwings have occasionally been found as “vagrants” in regions where they do not typically live. Vagrant birds are birds that, due to a number of causes, have wandered far outside of their usual territories. Heavy storms, unusual weather patterns, and population booms are just a few causes for vagrancy. Although Northern Lapwings are endemic to Eurasia, they have occasionally been sighted in North America. Thus, Lapwings way represent wanderlust, travel, navigation, becoming lost, or finding one’s way. (4)
One fascinating bit of tradition associated with Lapwings is the little-known fact that the Easter Bunny might’ve originally been a Lapwing. It is believed that Lapwings are at least partially responsible for the idea of rabbits laying eggs. Lapwings may be wading birds, but they tend to prover a habitat of grassy farmland over rocky shorelines. These grassy habitats are home to many rabbits and hares, so it’s easy to imagine them living in close proximity. Additionally, Lapwings nest in “scrapes” in the ground rather than traditional birds’ nests. So, when a rabbit is chased through a field, it is not uncommon to find a pile of Lapwing eggs nearby. People who did not have the benefit of modern science might’ve concluded that the bunnies had laid said eggs. In fact, some versions of this origin story state that Lapwings would take over rabbit burrows, laying eggs in them and then running away when the rabbit returned. The returning rabbit would then end up sitting on the intruders’ eggs, leading to confusion for human observers. For this reason, Lapwings can be connected with springtime, fertility, renewal, Easter festivities, and celebration. (5)(6)
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Lapwing Native American Symbolism
As mentioned previously, Lapwings are only found in the Americas in limited cases wherein “vagrant” birds wind up outside of their home territories. Closely related to Plovers, Lapwings can still be assumed to hold many of the same symbolic connotations as Plovers and other wading birds in Native American cultures.
In Native American symbolism, the Plover can sometimes represent death, passage between worlds, and protection. According to a myth from Central California, the Killdeer, a species of Plover, guards the river through which souls pass after death. If any living human touches the river’s water, they are transformed into a fish. The Killdeer watches the river and warns humans who come close by crying a warning cry. (7)(8)
Lapwing Christianity Symbolism
Lapwings are mentioned in certain translations of the scriptures as “unclean” birds which are not fit to be eaten by humans. They are otherwise absent from the Bible. Most versions assume that the “Lapwing” of the Bible is actually meant to be the “Hoopoe,” a similarly crested Eurasian and African bird who otherwise bears very little resemblance to the Lapwing. (9)
Lapwing Celtic Symbolism
Although unofficial, the Northern Lapwing was declared the National Bird of Ireland in 1990 by the Irish Wildlife Conservancy. (10)
Their tendency to nest in springtime associates these birds with to migrate and nest in springtime associates these birds with renewal and the changing seasons.
Lapwing in Dreams
Dreaming of a Lapwing can suggest that one feels a desire to travel and explore. Lapwings migrate over pretty considerable distances and vagrant Lapwings suggest that these birds are prone to wandering off track a bit. Dreaming of a Lapwing may mean that you feel a call to adventure.
Lapwings are often mistakenly labeled as “deceitful” due to their connection with Plovers and Killdeers. Despite this label, Lapwings are never really observed taking part in the trickster “broken wing displays” that these other birds utilize. Dreaming of a Lapwing might mean that others are judging you for the company that you keep. It may also indicate that you feel misunderstood by others.
Lapwing Encounters and Omens
Encountering a Lapwing is quite easy to do in the regions where they are found. Lapwings are gregarious, social, and prone to nesting much further inland than one might expect from a wading bird. If you’ve recently encountered a Lapwing, this might be a sign to appreciate the idyllic nature that surrounds you.
Additionally, a Lapwing encounter might represent vulnerability. Lapwings nest in little scrapes in the ground and care for their young with devoted attention. Despite this, the period where the Lapwing’s chicks first begin leaving the nest is extremely delicate and many Lapwing chicks are picked off by predators. A Lapwing encounter may represent the protection of a parent or mentor against the harsh realities of the adult world.
Lapwing in Mythology & Folklore
Mythology surrounding the Lapwing is widespread and varied. In Sri Lanka, for example, certain species of Lapwings are said to embody the souls of women who have died by suicide. Something about the Lapwing’s striking plumage seems to inspire all sorts of folklore and superstition. (11)
As mentioned above, the Lapwing may be the culprit behind the idea of rabbits laying eggs on the Easter holiday. This bit of folklore may have influenced the entire development and traditions involved with one of Christianity’s most important holiday celebrations.
In Egyptian art, the Lapwing is often depicted with human arms raised in praise of the pharaoh or the gods. Symbolically, the Egyptian depiction of the Lapwing is connected with servitude and subjection. Many murals and relief sculptures depict the pharaoh standing on the backs of Lapwings with disabled wings. Some art connects the Lapwings with the Egyptian people whose role it is to serve and worship their pharaoh. Other depictions use the Lapwing to depict enemies of Egypt which have been humbled by its might. (12)
The Lapwing features in some versions of the myth of Procne, Philomela, and Tereus. According to legend, Procne was married to Tereus, the king of Thrace. One day, Procne begged Tereus to allow her beloved sister Philomela to come to Thrace and visit them. Tereus agreed and the sisters were happily united. Tereus began to lust after Philomela during her visit and devised a plan to rape her. He lured Philomela to a cabin in the woods and attacked her. When he had finished, he cut out her tongue so that she could never tell her sister what had happened. Clever and desperate for revenge, Philomela wove a tapestry which explained the violent events and showed it to Procne. Procne was so angry that she enacted revenge on her husband by slaying their young son and feeding him to Tereus. When Tereus found out, he chased the two women into the woods. Afraid and angry, the women prayed to the gods to et them escape. The gods answered by turning all three of them into birds. Procne became a swallow, Philomela became a nightingale, and Tereus became either a Lapwing or a Hoopoe depending upon which version of the myth you read. (13)
Lapwing Spirit Animal
If the Lapwing is your spirit animal then you are probably a laid back and sociable person who does things at their own pace. Lapwings are often described as “lazy” in flight, but the Lapwing spirit animal always gets to where it needs to go, even if it entertains a few diversions along the way. People with the Lapwing spirit animal love to travel and explore, but they appreciate having a comfy place to come home to.
If your spirit animal is the Lapwing then you may find that you have a tendency to fall in with a bad crowd or be judged based upon the friends that you hang out with. Remember that the company you keep is important. You don’t have to judge or hate anyone, but surrounding yourself with good energy is much more likely to bring that energy into your life.
Lapwing Totem Animal
If your totem animal is the Lapwing then you are creative in nature and prefer to find career opportunities that allow you to express yourself. People with the Lapwing totem animal enjoy music and art as career paths, but they are also great at connecting with people and are well-suited to things like therapy, counseling, and mentoring.
The Lapwing totem animal is brave, confident, and rolls with the punches easily. This sort of energy is very attractive to others and makes the Lapwing a great friend and teammate. Lapwing totems tend to have large social circles.
Lapwing Power Animal
If the Lapwing is your power animal then you may be blessed with a unique ability to find adventures. Life has a way of locking us into routines that many find boring or stagnating. People with the Lapwing power animal know how to find the adventures that everyday life presents.
The Lapwing power animal is spontaneous and unafraid to shake things up. Last minute trips, unusual new hobbies, and veering off the beaten path adds flavor to everyday life. The Lapwing is great at identifying opportunities to savor this.
Lapwing Tattoo Meaning
A Lapwing tattoo may represent anything from Irish pride, as this bird is the unofficial National Bird of Ireland, to travel. You may choose a Lapwing tattoo to represent wanderlust or spontaneity.
A Lapwing tattoo may also represent mistaken identity. Mistaken for Killdeers when it comes to the “broken wing display” and mistaken for bunnies when it comes to Easter eggs, the Lapwing is the subject of much confusion.
A Lapwing tattoo may also be chosen in the style of Egyptian art. Keep in mind, however, that most Egyptian Lapwing imagery is related to subjection and servitude.
Lapwings may not be super familiar to our readers from the Americas, but in much of Eurasia these birds are a common and iconic sight. Despite this, Lapwings are in decline in many of the habitats where they are most commonly found. Land management practices over the last several decades have made it difficult for Lapwings to nest safely. It is an unfortunate possibility that these once-common birds may eventually become seriously endangered if their habitats are not preserved. Lapwings, to me, represent the plight of all of earth’s birds and our responsibility to find ways to coexist with and preserve their delicate populations. (14)