The spectacular courting ritual of the amorous lapwing is a sight to behold

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The spectacular aerial courtship display of the male lapwing is akin to a kite that has gone out of control.

Calling excitedly, he rises steeply on slow wing beats above the field, sweeps around in a wide circle, gains height again and then, zoom!

Down he plunges and rolls like a kamikaze, twisting this way and that, his broad floppy wings all over the place. If you are near the bird, it is even possible to hear the air hum and throb from the noise of the erratic wing beats.

But the lapwing knows what he is doing and at the last moment, when a crash landing seems inevitable, he stalls and alights on the ground and runs towards the female with crest raised.

In a frantic bid to impress the female, he will often scrape the ground to create a makeshift nest in which he will sit and shuffle with barely concealed excitement.

The call of the lapwing is one of the most evocative noises of a Scottish spring; the plaintive "pee-wee" echoing across our fields and glens, the last "wee" often turning into a more excited "hoo-wee" as the male performs his incredible rolling aerobatics.

The distinctive call inspires other commonly used country names for the lapwing such as peewit, peesieweep or other variations around that theme.

In Fife it is known as the lappie and in Orkney the tee-whip. It is also widely known as the green plover.

The lapwing is a most attractive bird - from a distance looking largely black and white, but close up and in good light having a marvellous metallic purple and green iridescent sheen.

The distinctive erectile crest is the longest of any British bird.

Over the next few weeks lapwings will be laying their four eggs in a shallow scrape in the ground, often on arable land and pasture. In my home area, they tend to nest in spring-sown cereal fields, that have adjacent insect-rich pasture and damp margins for the chicks to feed in.

The newly hatched chicks are wee bundles of fluff, marbled brown, black and white.

They are very vulnerable at this stage and many fall victim to stoats, crows and gulls. If danger threatens, a warning call from the parent birds will freeze the chicks to the ground, their mottled down providing perfect camouflage.

A couple of years ago I almost stepped upon a chick that had hunkered down in such a manner on a path by a field edge. Such was its reliance on freezing still to avoid detection that I was able to pick it up with ease before carefully placing it in a safer spot.

Peculiarly, for such a beautiful bird, the lapwing has in the past often been associated with deceit. Chaucer was not impressed by the parent lapwing's habit of feigning injury to draw predators away from the nest when he wrote of the "false lapwynge, ful of treacherye". It is certainly a bold and protective parent and will dive-bomb any intruder that approaches too close to its nest.

Farmers welcome lapwings on their land because they feed on a range of insects and invertebrates, including those that are harmful to crops such as caterpillars and leatherjackets.

But sadly the bird is in decline in Scotland, probably due to a reduction in wetlands and damp field margins combined with changes in farming practices.

Increased predation could be another factor. One recent study indicated that most nest attacks occurred during darkness, suggesting that nocturnal mammals were the culprits.

But at least some threats from the past have disappeared. Their eggs (plover's eggs) were once considered a great delicacy and were mentioned in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management published in 1861 (egg collecting is now illegal).

And for those looking for a more substantial feast, one could always turn to Plover Pie, a 19th-century recipe which required six lapwings and a pint of rich beef gravy.

This article was first published in The Scotsman, 2 April, 2011