Sprayline hatches eggcellent plan

When a local family made a risky real estate choice in early September, the VicRoads Sprayline Road Services (SRS) team in Red Cliffs acted quickly to help them out.

Discovering that a pair of native plovers (also known as masked lapwings) had laid eggs in the middle of the depot, staff were determined to safeguard the nest.

Trying to move them on could cause the adult birds to attack intruders or abandon the nest, so the SRS team wisely left the eggs where they were.

Staff surrounded the nest with traffic cones to protect it from activity, making sure the parents could come and go easily, while keeping them safe from the heavy vehicles that frequently drive in and out of the depot.

"The crew was excited that we were breeding plovers and checked on the eggs and birds every time they walked or drove past the nest," said Ray Forster, supervisor of the Red Cliffs depot.

Ray was interested to see that the plover parents took turns sitting on the nest, and that the birds had distinctive yellow flaps, known as wattles, on each side of their eyes.

"The flaps fold around to cover their eyes from dust and strong winds. I was amazed," he said.

Plovers often make poor housing choices, insisting on raising a family in what we may consider inappropriate locations. They love to nest on the ground in large, cleared areas such as parks, golf courses, sports fields, pastures – and apparently depots. They lay up to four eggs in a small depression, away from ground cover, so they can easily see any predators.

Thanks to the care taken by the SRS team, the eggs hatched on 4 October, about 28 days after they were discovered. Plover chicks have a full covering of down and are able to leave the nest and feed themselves a few hours after hatching.

Watching four little balls of fluff waddle out of the depot gate for the wider world was a proud moment for the team.

"It was just like they were saying goodbye and thank you!" Ray said.

Fast facts

  • The masked lapwing is Australia's largest plover, measuring between 15-39 cm in length.
  • While plovers may swoop in nesting season, they rarely make contact. They have blunt beaks for picking at insects, unlike magpies’ sharp beaks that can penetrate flesh.
  • Plovers engage in false brooding, a type of distraction display, for example pretending to change position or sit on an imaginary nest site, or leading a predator away from their chicks by pretending to be injured.