Why is the sociable lapwing critically endangered? Scientists don't know for sure, and the birds aren't talking.

Species name: Sociable lapwing or sociable plover (Vanellus gregarius)

Where found: As a migratory bird, the sociable lapwing has a fairly large range. It breeds in Russia and Kazakhstan, then flies south through 11 countries (including Iran and Turkey) before wintering in Israel, the Sudan, Syria and a few other nations.

IUCN Red List status: Critically endangered. The total population may be as high as 17,000 individuals, but that's extrapolated from a 2006 count of 376 breeding pairs in Kazakhstan.

Major threat: Nobody knows. What we do know is that the population has crashed, although it may be more stable now (the largest flock in more than a century was spotted in Turkey in 2007). The cause of the original decline, though, is a mystery. It's possible that grazing of domesticated animals disturbed the lapwing's territory and caused a low survival rate. The birds have been heavily hunted, usually illegally, and recent research indicates that many adult birds are killed during migration.

Notable conservation programs: BirdLife International has been monitoring and tracking the birds as they migrate, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has worked to improve international protections for the species.

Photo by Tarique Sani via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

Previous Sunday Snapshots: