Vanellinae are a subfamily of medium-sized wading birds belonging to the family Charadriidae, which also includes the plovers and dotterels. The Vanellinae are collectively called lapwings but also contain the ancient Red-kneed Dotterel. A lapwing can be thought of as a larger plover.
The traditional terms "plover", "lapwing" and "dotterel" were coined long before modern understandings of the relationships between different groups of birds emerged: in consequence, several of the Vanellinae are still often called "plovers", and the reverse also applies, albeit more rarely, to some Charadriinae (the "true" plovers and dotterels).
The collective term for a group of lapwings is a "deceit of lapwings."
Many coloration details of the Red-kneed Dotterel also occur here and there among the living members of the main lapwing clade. Its position as the most basal of the living Vanellinae or just immediately outside it thus means that their last common ancestor - or even the last common ancestor of plovers and lapwings - almost certainly was a plover-sized bird with a black crown and breast-band, a white feather patch at the wrist, no hallux, and a lipochromic (probably red) bill with a black tip. Its legs most likely were black or the color of the bill's base.
A mid-Oligocene - c.28 mya (million years ago) - fossil from Rupelmonde in Belgium has been assigned to Vanellus, but even iuf the genus were broadly defined it is entirely unclead if the placement is correct. Its age ties in with the appearance of the first seemingly distinct Charadriinae at about the same time, and with the presence of more basal Charadriidae a few million years earlier. However, the assignment of fragmentary fossils to Charadriinae or Vanellinae is not easy. Thus it is very likely that the charadriid waders originate around the Eocene-Oligocene boundary - roughly 40-30 mya - but nothing more can be said at present. If the Belgian fossil is not a true lapwing, there are actually no Vanellinae fossils known before the Quaternary.
The Early Oligocene fossil Dolicopterus from Ronzon (France) may be such an ancestral member of the Charadriidae or even the Vanellinae, but it has not been studied in recent decades and is in dire need of review.
Apart from the prehistoric Vanellus, the extinct lapwing genus Viator has been described from fossils. Its remains were found in the tar pits of Talara in Peru and it lived in the Late Pleistocene. Little is known of this rather large lapwing; it may actually belong in Vanellus.
Interestingly, the remaining Charadrii are highset and/or chunky birds, even decidedly larger than a lot of the scolopacid waders. The evolutionary trend regarding the Charadriidae - which make up most of the diversity of the Charadrii - thus runs contrary to Cope's Rule.