This Easter break, instead of taking the children on an egg hunt, why not do something different and see if the family can spot a Peasiewheep, Thievnig or Hornywink.
These names are regional varieties for the more commonly known lapwing. In fact, this medium sized wading bird has more regional names than any other British avian species and my favourites include Teewhuppo from the Orkneys and Tick’s Nicket (Shetland Isles).
The true root of the name is thought to be Anglo-Saxon for ‘crest’ and of course the lapwing is instantly recognisable for its beautiful upswept, black crest which contrasts starkly with the iridescent green/blue plumage.
This is even more noticeable when the birds are viewed wheeling and soaring in the air in a stunning aerobatic display of courtship. The accompanying sound resembles a laboured, wheezy ‘pee-wit’ from which the bird gets another name.
But lapwings have little to do with Easter tradition, or so you might assume. In the early 8th Century one of Britain’s earliest scholars, The Venerable Bede, indicated that April was named after Eostre the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring.
Eostre was said to have found a wounded bird which she transformed into a hare so that it could survive the winter. The hare become Eostre’s familiar and each spring laid eggs which he decorated and offered as a gift to his goddess.
Perhaps this is the reason why it became customary to decorate bird eggs and give these to family and friends. Lapwing eggs were traditionally used as they were easy to collect due to the birds being ground nesters.
When I was a child, the local heath and woodlands were places of great adventure and discovery. At Easter we would take a large basket and fill it with gorse flowers, hedgerow blossoms and early meadow flowers.
Once home, our booty was simmered in hot water until the water turned yellow or pink or green, depending on the foliage. Chicken eggs were added and left until the shells absorbed the dye. The last step was to decorate the eggs with crayons, poster paints or whatever else came to hand!
Easter is the perfect time to embrace nature’s playground and rediscover the fun and adventure of being outdoors. There’s a wild thing in all of us so why not spend some time this Easter searching for signs of spring and looking for the wild things.
Join in the fun of Wild Things at Easter across RSPB reserves from March 30 to April 15. For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/wildthings