Living Bird Magazine
Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
A shorebird that looks almost like a calico cat, the Ruddy Turnstone's orange legs and uniquely patterned black-and-white head and chest make them easy to pick out of a crowd. These long-distance migrants breed in the arctic tundra, but spend the off seasons on rocky shorelines and sandy beaches on both North American coasts (as well as South America, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia). They use their stout, slightly upturned bill to flip debris on the beach to uncover insects and small crustaceans.More ID Info
Find This Bird
To find a Ruddy Turnstone, hit the beach; almost any time of the year will do, but they are more numerous in the spring and fall. Ruddy Turnstones also show up at inland marshes and lakeshores, but they are more common on the coast. They don’t wade in deeper waters, so be on the lookout for them at the water’s edge, where the high tide deposits shells, rocks, seaweed, and other debris. At higher tides when there’s less exposed shoreline, look for them in rocky outcrops along the shore. Most often you can get good looks at turnstones with binoculars but as with many shorebirds, having a spotting scope will help you get better looks without disturbing them.
- Vuelvepiedras Común (Spanish)
- Tournepierre à collier (French)
- Cool Facts
- For shorebirds like the Ruddy Turnstone, getting fat is critical. Unlike humans, which use carbohydrates as fuel, birds use fat to power their migrations. Birds that don’t get fat enough before they depart often leave later and some may not even make it to the breeding or wintering grounds.
- Walking on wet and slippery rocks can be treacherous for just about anyone without good gripping shoes. Ruddy Turnstones have special feet that are somewhat spiny, with short, sharply curved toenails that help them hold on. They also have a low center of gravity thanks to their short legs that helps keep them anchored.
- Young turnstones need to grow up and learn to fly quickly. They take their first flight when they are around 19 days old and fly thousands of miles to the nonbreeding grounds 2 days later. To make things harder, their parents will have departed by this time, leaving the youngsters to make their first migration on their own.
- There are about 350 species of shorebirds (order Charadriiformes) in the world, but there are only 2 turnstones, the Ruddy Turnstone and the Black Turnstone, both of which occur in North America.
- Ruddy Turnstones need to fly fast to cover the enormous distances between their breeding and nonbreeding grounds. Flight speeds of turnstones average between 27 and 47 miles per hour.
- In 1758, Linnaeus described the Ruddy Turnstone based on a specimen collected in Gotland, Sweden.
- Ruddy Turnstones breeding in western Alaska and eastern Siberia are world travelers: they take different migratory routes depending on the season. In spring they head north overland through Asia from wintering areas in the North and South Pacific and Australia. In fall they head south via the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea, flying mostly over the open Pacific Ocean before reaching their southern hemisphere wintering grounds.
- The oldest recorded Ruddy Turnstone was a male, and at least 16 years, 11 months old, when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in New Jersey in 2012. He had been banded in Delaware in 2001.