The bird family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels, and lapwings, about 64 to 66 species in all. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They range in size from the Collared Plover, at 26 grams and 14 cm (5.5 inches), to the Masked Lapwing, at 368 grams (13 oz) and 35 cm (14 inches).
They are distributed through open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water, although there are some exceptions: the Inland Dotterel, for example, prefers stony ground in the deserts of central and western Australia.
They hunt by sight, rather than by feel as longer-billed waders like snipe do. Foods eaten include insects, worms or other invertebrates depending on habitat, and are usually obtained by a run-and-pause technique, rather than the steady probing of some other wader groups. While breeding, they defend their territories with highly visible aerial displays.
Most members of the family are known as plovers, lapwings or dotterels. These were rather vague terms which were not applied with any great consistency in the past. In general, larger species have often been called lapwings, smaller species plovers or dotterels and there are in fact two clear taxonomic sub-groups: most lapwings belong to the subfamily Vanellinae, most plovers and dotterels to Charadriinae.
The trend in recent years has been to rationalise the common names of the Charadriidae. For example, the large and very common Australian bird traditionally known as the ‘Spur-winged Plover’, is now the Masked Lapwing; the former ‘Sociable Plover’ is now the Sociable Lapwing.