The story of the Easter… lapwing?
Easter is often marked by the giving of eggs, whether you celebrate the Christian festival or not. As a symbol of new life and rebirth, associating eggs with spring and Easter makes sense.
But why are they delivered by a bunny in the UK and many other countries? Bunnies don’t lay eggs! There are many origin stories to this tradition – some talk about the goddess Eostre who was accompanied by a hare.
But this Easter time we wanted to explore another explanation of the Easter Bunny. One that takes us to nature – in particular the English countryside.
The lapwing is a beautiful bird that lives in farmland and wetland. Their numbers have decreased dramatically and they are now on the RSPB ‘Red List’ meaning that the species is globally threatened.
But what do they have to do with Easter?
In Victorian times, it was common to collect and give wild bird eggs over the Easter season, rather than the chocolate variety.
As lapwings, or plovers as they were more commonly known, lay their eggs on the ground, they were easy targets for collection. This practice devastated the lapwing population – to the extent that in 1926 a ‘Lapwing Act’ was enacted to protect the species.
But that still doesn’t explain the Easter Bunny connection…
It’s all in the nests. Lapwings lay their eggs on the ground – as we have seen, this meant they were easy to steal. Lapwing nests look remarkably familiar to a hare’s form: hares rest above ground in ‘forms’ rather than in burrows like rabbits. Lapwings have been even known to move in to a form rather than create their own nest from scratch.
So it’s easy to see how eggs might seem to come from hare’s nests. And why the bunny rather than the Easter hare? Apparently that was due to Christian distaste for the pagan associations of the hare.
Whether the lapwing is responsible for the famous Easter bunny or not, one thing is certain – they need our help. The Lapwing Act slowed their decline, but didn’t stop it. Their habitats have been destroyed for many reasons: wetlands have been drained, crop seasons have changed, there are more dogs and livestock disturbing their nests. It’s been bad news for the lapwings. And they’re not the only ones. One in four UK birds are now on the Red List.
So spare a thought for the birds this Easter season. Whether it’s going for a walk and noticing the birds around you, making a donation to the RSPB’s Red Alert appeal or pledging to provide food and water, make your Easter a bird-friendly one!
And have lots of fun hunting for (chocolate or wooden) eggs outside too!