Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus: Juvenile to Adult Plumage Transition

on 16th September 2023

I had an opportunity today to observe a family unit of Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus, two adults and two juveniles. I decided to look at all my past images of Red-wattled Lapwings to offer some idea of juvenile to adult plumage transition.

The first collage image (Plate 1) shows the progression from a chick to an adult, focusing on the face, while the second (Plate 2) shows the birds in full. Some observations of plumage change from juvenile to adult below.

Plate 1: Red-wattled Lapwing Juvenile to Adult Plumage Transition – Focus on the Face

Bare-Parts Changes
Bill – The tip is dark from a very young age, gets darker as the bird matures and is black in adults. The proximal two-thirds of the bill is initially brown, then a light orange with progression to darker orange-red, deepening to full red in adults.

Iris – I am not able to make clear judgements on the iris colour changes as lighting affects this. But it does appear that the iris is darker/brown in younger birds compared to the red in adults. Hayman et al (1986) states that the iris is “browner in young birds”.

Eye-ring and Wattle – Chicks do not have an eye-ring or a wattle. But as they grow older, and develop orange in the bill, they also develop a small orange wattle and a very thin orange eye-ring. This grows in size and deepens in colour to the rich red of adults; with a more marked eye-ring.

Legs and Feet – The legs are a pale-flesh colour in young birds that then develops into a dirty-yellow and final bright-yellow in adults.

Plumage Changes
The cap is initially light brown speckled with black, then becomes a darker brown, followed by a sooty-black tipped buff (Taylor & Message 2005), until the full black of adults. Note that the forehead remains grey-white until late and that the back of the head is black from a very young age. The nape and neck collar become black progressively. The throat and chin remain white until a late stage. The upper breast is grey-black from a young age and deepens to a dark black as it extends downwards and sideways with age. The upperparts of juveniles are a lighter brown with buff fringes.

Plate 2: Red-wattled Lapwing Juvenile to Adult Plumage Transition – Full body view


  1. Taylor & Message (2005). Waders of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm.
  2. Hayman, Marchant & Prater (1986). Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. London: Christopher Helm.
  3. Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passerines). London: Christopher Helm.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

Amar-Singh HSS

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Cert Theology (Aust, Hons), MBBS (Mal), MRCP (UK), FRCP (Glasg), MSc Community Paediatrics (Ldn, dist), is a Consultant Paediatrician. He served the Malaysian civil service for more than 35 years, led regional Paediatric and Research departments, is an active child advocate and the recipient of a number of international awards. He has been a bird watcher for around 50 years, published two bird books, has a number of international bird publications, contributed to more than 20 international bird books/guides, and contributes to online bird image and audio databases. He is an active contributor to the Bird Ecology Study Group with a large number of detailed posts and write-ups on bird ecology. He is a life member of the Malaysian Nature Society, a member of the BCC-MNS Records Committee, a member of the Oriental Bird Club and supports eBird. He is interested in spending time getting to know bird behaviour and considers himself a bird-friend. Amar is based at Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

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