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Generalist Aphid Predator (Charadriiformes: Charadriidae)

Vanellus indicus

Red-wattled Lapwing

On this page: Identification & Distribution Biological Control of Aphids Predation of cabbage aphid Predation of potato pests Predation of sugar beet pests

Identification & Distribution

The wings and back of adult red-wattled lapwings (see first picture below) are light brown with a purple to green sheen. The head, the front bib and back of the neck are black. A prominent white patch runs between these two colours, from belly to tail, flanking the neck to the sides of the crown. There is a red fleshy wattle in front of each eye, and the bill is red tipped with black. The short tail is tipped with black and the long legs are yellow. In flight the bird displays prominent white wing bars formed by the white on the secondary coverts (see second picture below).

First image copyright Charles J Sharp under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
Second image copyright Yogendra Joshi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 License

There are four recognized subspecies:

  • Vanellus indicus aigneri, found from southeast Turkey to Pakistan.
  • Vanellus indicus indicus, found from central Pakistan to Nepal, northeast India and Bangladesh.
  • Vanellus indicus lankae, restricted to Sri Lanka.
  • Vanellus indicus atronuchalis, found from northeast India to south China, southeast Asia, Malay Peninsula and north Sumatra.

The diet of the lapwing includes a range of insects, snails and other invertebrates, picked from the ground and from vegetation. They may also feed on some grains. They feed mainly during the day but they may also feed at night. They may sometimes make use of their legs to disturb insect prey from soft soil.

The red-wattled lapwing breeds from West Asia eastwards across South Asia, and then further east into Southeast Asia. Populations are mainly resident, but birds in N. Baluchistan and NW Pakistan migrate to higher areas in spring and autumn after being widely spread out in the monsoons.


Biological Control of Aphids

Predation of cabbage aphid

In Gujarat on India's western coast Jadav et al. (2013) looked at the cabbage pests present in fields (see picture below of cabbage field in India) and the community structure of insectivorous birds predating them.

Cabbage crop in India: Image CCO Public domain

The cabbage crop was attacked by an array of insect pests, with aphids the most destructive and predominant pest. Three different species of aphids are known to attack cabbage in the area, of which the turnip aphid (Lipaphis pseudobrassicae, sometimes misnamed Lipaphis erysimi) (see picture below) was the most abundant species in the study area.

Image copyright Andy Jensen, under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 creative commons licence.

A total of 14 bird species were recorded from cabbage fields feeding on insects from the crop, of which redwattled lapwing (25.2%) (see picture below) was the most abundant species and the most frequently observed (26.1%).

Image copyright Rison Thumboor under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Other common species were yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava) (23%) (see first picture below) and Indian myna (Acridotheres tristis) (10.6%) (see second picture below).

First image copyright J.M. Garg under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
Second image copyright T.G. Santosh under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The number of aphids/cabbageplant and the numbers of bird present were compared between pesticide-sprayed fields and unsprayed fields. The count of Lipaphis pseudobrassicae was roughly three times higher in unsprayed fields than in pesticide sprayed fields. Average bird numbers were twice as high in unsprayed fields compared to sprayed fields. The higher bird numbers in unsprayed fields were interpreted as an aggregative response of the birds to higher aphid numbers. On this basis Jadav suggested that birds definitely had a role to play in the integrated control of aphids in farmers' fields.

Predation of potato pests

Sharma (1998) identified the members of the bird community which predated the, mainly underground, pests of potato in India. A total of 17 predatory bird species were identified. They were seen to pick-up grubs, caterpillars, worms, beetles and other insects during all field operations, but particularly during irrigation and soil disturbance at mechanical harvesting, interculture and field preparation operations. The most active predators were Indian myna (Acridotheres tristis), housecrow (Corvus splendens), black drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis) (see first picture below), red-wattled lapwing, large pied wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis), grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea = M. caspica), cattle egret (Bulbulcus ibis) (see second picture below) and pied myna (Sturnus contra).

First image copyright Mike Prince under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Second image copyright Cuttackamc under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

Overall the common myna was present in greater numbers than other species, followed by house crow, black drongo and cattle egret. Some birds followed the plough to capture insects: mainly cattle egrets, also Indian myna and red-wattled lapwing. Some predators assembled large flocks during the morning hours at ploughing, harvesting and intercultural operations, but numbers of these reduced in the afternoon. Common myna, large pied wagtail, black drongo, redwattled lapwing and some other small birds continued catching insects till night fall. House crow, black drongo, and sometimes common myna would snatch insects picked by other avi-fauna.

Predation of sugar beet pests

Shivankar et al. (2008) tested the efficacy of putting bird perches in the crop to increase bird predation of beet armyworm (Spodoptera litura) larvae. In this study only the number of armyworm larvae was monitored, and aphids were not considered. But we include the study here because it is one of the few using an experimental approach to assess the impact of bird predation, and any beneficial impact on armyworm numbers is likely to be mirrored by the impact on aphid numbers. The most likely aphid to be present was probably Myzus persicae (Sharma et al, 2017). Treatments comprised 'T' shaped wooden bird perches, at 0, 5, 10,15, 20 and 25 per hectare, installed at 60 days after sowing. A randomized block design was used, with 3 replicates per treatment. The relative abundances of the different members of the bird community were monitored.

Seven major bird species were present: Indian myna, house sparrow (Passer domesticus), red-wattled lapwing, house crow (Corvus splendens, greater coucal (Centropus sinensis), red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus caffer) and the Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopacea), as well as a few cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis). The most abundant predators were the Indian myna, the house sparrow (see picture below), and the red-wattled lapwing.

Image copyright J.M. Garg under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

When the sugar beet crops were young, house sparrow were reported to also graze on crops. Rooks were also noticed to kill sugar beet plant by uprooting them whilst searching for wireworm and other soil invertebrates. Hence it was suggested that bird perches should only be erected after the appropriate foliage canopy of sugar beet has developed.

Increasing the number of bird perches markedly increased the number of birds resting and feeding in the crop. Placement of 25 perches per hectare roughly doubled the number of bird 'sittings'. The mean larval population of armyworm before the placement of bird perches was sufficient to cause economic damage to sugar beet crop. The mean larval population reduction due to placement of bird perches in three crop seasons ranged from 34 to 69%. Considering the number of birds sittings, reduction in larval armyworm population, beet root yield and juice quality, It was concluded that installing 15 bird perches/ha 60 days post-sowing was optimal.


For bird identification we have used the latest Wikipedia account for each species. For aphids we have made provisional identifications from photos of living specimens, along with host plant identity using the keys and species accounts of Blackman & Eastop (1994) and Blackman & Eastop (2006) supplemented with Blackman (1974), Stroyan (1977), Stroyan (1984), Blackman & Eastop (1984), Heie (1980-1995), Dixon & Thieme (2007) and Blackman (2010). We fully acknowledge these authors as the source for the (summarized) taxonomic information we have presented. Any errors in identification or information are ours alone, and we would be very grateful for any corrections. For assistance on the terms used for aphid morphology we suggest the figure provided by Blackman & Eastop (2006).

Useful weblinks


  • Jadav, P,C. et al. (2013). Community structure of insectivorous birds of cabbage fields. Journal of Biological Control 21(2), 135-138. Full text

  • Sharma, C.K. (1998). Avian predators of potato pests. Envis Bulletin. Himalayan Ecology 6(1), 19-23. Full text

  • Sharma, S. et al. (2017). Seasonal dynamics of insect pests of sugar beet under sub-tropical conditions. Journal of Agrometeorology 19(1), 81-83. Full text

  • Shivankar, S.B. et al. (2008). Role of avian community in reduction of Spodoptera pest population in sugar beet at Pune. Our Nature 6, 19-25. Full text