Ruddy turnstone

The ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is a small wading bird, one of two species of turnstone in the genus Arenaria. The scientific name is from Latin. The genus name arenaria derives from arenarius, "inhabiting sand, from arena, "sand". The specific interpres means "messenger"; when visiting Gotland in 1741, Linnaeus thought that the Swedish word Tolk "interpreter" applied to this species, but in the local dialect the word means "legs" and is used for the redshank.[2]

It is now classified in the sandpiper family Scolopacidae but was formerly sometimes placed in the plover family Charadriidae. It is a highly migratory bird, breeding in northern parts of Eurasia and North America and flying south to winter on coastlines almost worldwide. It is the only species of turnstone in much of its range and is often known simply as turnstone.

Ruddy turnstone
Arenaria interpres (habitus)
Adult in breeding plumage
Arenaria interpres 2 - Boat Harbour (cropped)
Adult in non-breeding plumage
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Arenaria
A. interpres
Binomial name
Arenaria interpres
Arenaria interpres map

Tringa interpres Linnaeus, 1758


It is a fairly small and stocky bird, 22–24 cm (8.7–9.4 in) long with a wingspan of 50–57 cm (20–22 in) and a weight of 85–150 g (3.0–5.3 oz). The dark, wedge-shaped bill is 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) long and slightly upturned. The legs are fairly short at 3.5 cm (1.4 in) and are bright orange.

In all seasons, the plumage is dominated by a harlequin-like pattern of black and white. Breeding birds have reddish-brown upper parts with black markings. The head is mainly white with black streaks on the crown and a black pattern on the face. The breast is mainly black apart from a white patch on the sides. The rest of the underparts are white. In flight it reveals a white wingbar, white patch near the base of the wing and white lower back, rump and tail with dark bands on the uppertail-coverts and near the tip of the tail. The female is slightly duller than the male and has a browner head with more streaking.

Non-breeding adults are duller than breeding birds and have dark grey-brown upperparts with black mottling and a dark head with little white. Juvenile birds have a pale brown head and pale fringes to the upperpart feathers creating a scaly impression.

Birds of the subspecies morinella are smaller with darker upperparts and less streaking on the crown.

The ruddy turnstone has a staccato, rattling call and also a chattering alarm-call which is mainly given during the breeding season.

Arenaria interpres SK

Non-breeding plumage

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres morinella)

A. i. morinella on Tobago

Ruddy Turnstone at Bald Head Island

on Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres by Dr. Raju Kasambe

in India

Ruddy turnstone, India

Ruddy Turnstone, Vasai, Maharashtra, India in December

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) in flight non-breeding

in flight, non-breeding plumage, Madagascar


Ruddy turnstone at Muzhappilangad Beach
Ruddy turnstone at Muzhappilangad Beach

The ruddy turnstone breeds in northern latitudes, usually no more than a few kilometres from the sea. The subspecies A. i. morinella occurs in northern Alaska and in Arctic Canada as far east as Baffin Island. A. i. interpres breeds in western Alaska, Ellesmere Island, Greenland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and northern Russia. It formerly bred on the Baltic coast of Germany and has possibly bred in Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

In the Americas, the species winters on coastlines from Washington and Massachusetts southwards to the southern tip of South America although it is scarce in southern parts of Chile and Argentina and is only an unconfirmed vagrant in the Falkland Islands. In Europe, it winters in western regions from Iceland, Norway and Denmark southwards. Only small numbers are found on Mediterranean coasts. In Africa, it is common all the way down to South Africa with good numbers on many offshore islands. In Asia, it is widespread in the south with birds wintering as far north as southern China and Japan (mainly in the Ryukyu Islands). It occurs south to Tasmania and New Zealand and is present on many Pacific islands. Some non-breeding birds remain year round in many parts of the wintering range, with some of those birds still taking on breeding plumage in the spring and summer.


Feeding and diet

The ruddy turnstone has a varied diet including carrion, eggs and plant material but it feeds mainly on invertebrates. Insects are particularly important in the breeding season. At other times it also takes crustaceans, molluscs and worms. It often flips over stones and other objects to get at prey items hiding underneath; this behaviour is the origin of the name "turnstone". It usually forages in flocks.

They have also been observed preying on the eggs of other bird species such as gulls, terns, ducks, and even other turnstones, though this behaviour is uncommon. In the majority of observed cases, turnstones typically go after undefended or unattended nests, puncturing the shells with their beaks to get at the contents within.[3]

Ruddy turnstones engage in a variety of behaviours to locate and capture prey. These behaviours can be placed into six general categories:[4]

  • Routing — The turnstone manipulates piles of seaweed through flicking, bulldozing, and pecking to expose small crustaceans or gastropod molluscs hidden underneath.
  • Turning stones — As suggested by its name, the turnstone flicks stones with its bill to uncover hidden littorinids and gammarid amphipods.
  • Digging — With small flicks of its bill, the turnstone creates holes in the ground substrate (usually sand or mud) and then pecks at the exposed prey - often sandhoppers or seaweed flies.
  • Probing — The turnstone inserts its bill more than a quarter-length into the ground to get at littorinids and other gastropods.
  • Hammer–probing — The turnstone cracks open its prey's shell by using its bill as a hammer, and then extracts the animal inside through pecking and probing.[5]
  • Surface pecking — The turnstone uses short, shallow pecks (less than a quarter bill-length) to get at prey at or just below the ground's surface.

There is evidence that turnstones vary between these feeding behaviours based on individual preference, sex, and even social status with respect to other turnstones. In one studied population, dominant individuals tended to engage in routing while preventing subordinates from doing the same. When these dominant individuals were temporarily removed, some of the subordinates started to rout, while others enacted no change in foraging strategy.

Aggression and territory defence

When foraging, turnstones adopt different postures indicative of their level of dominance. A lowered tail and a hunched stance is associated with chasing and aggression, and thus a dominant individual. Dominance in aggression is age-related, with juveniles assuming the subordinate role a disproportionate amount of the time.[6]

The plumage patterns of ruddy turnstones exhibit an unusual amount of variation in comparison with other shorebirds. Turnstones use these unique plumage patterns to recognize individuals and discriminate intruders in their territory from neighbours occupying an adjacent territory. When a fake fiberglass turnstone model is placed in a turnstone's territory, the occupant is less likely to respond aggressively if the model is painted to have the plumage pattern of a neighbouring turnstone.[7]


Ruddy turnstones can survive in a wide range of habitats and climatic conditions from Arctic to tropical. The typical breeding habitat is open tundra with water nearby. Outside the breeding season, it is found along coasts, particularly on rocky or stony shores. It is often found on man-made structures such as breakwaters and jetties. It may venture onto open grassy areas near the coast. Small numbers sometimes turn up on inland wetlands, especially during the spring and autumn migrations.

In terms of wintering sites, ruddy turnstones are particularly faithful to specific locations. A study published in 2009 examined turnstones wintering along a stretch of coastline in the Firth of Clyde. It found that 95% of birds resident to the area at the end of winter returned the following autumn. The same study also confirmed ruddy turnstones as one of the longest lived wader species, with annual adult mortality rates of under 15%.[5] Their average lifespan is 9 years with 19 years and 2 months being the longest recorded.


Arenaria interpres4
Breeding-plumaged adult on nest

It is a monogamous bird and pairs may remain together for more than one breeding season. The nest is a shallow scrape, often with a lining of leaves. It is about 11 cm (4.3 in) across and 3 cm (1.2 in) deep. It may be built amongst vegetation or on bare stony or rocky ground. Several pairs may nest close together.

A single clutch of two to five eggs is laid with four being most common. The eggs measure about 41 mm × 29 mm (1.6 in × 1.1 in) and weigh around 17.9 g (0.63 oz). They are smooth, slightly glossy and oval to pear-shaped. They are variable in colour but are commonly pale green-brown with dark brown markings, densest at the larger end. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid and lasts for about 22–24 days. The female is mainly responsible for incubating the eggs but the male may help towards the end.

The young birds are precocial and are able to leave the nest soon after hatching. They are buff above with dark grey markings and are white below. They are able to feed themselves but are protected by the parents, particularly the male. They fledge after 19–21 days.

Status and conservation

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the ruddy turnstone population is currently very stable. Environment Canada surveys suggest that they have in fact decreased in abundance relative to the 1970s, and face a variety of threats during migration and winter. They estimate that the Canadian population is 100,000–500,000 adults. The Canadian Wildlife Service estimates that the worldwide population of ruddy turnstones is 449,000, and that 235,000 are breeding in North America while the rest are breeding throughout the Arctic regions. They are very common and widespread. Their remote breeding range and widespread winter range should help them remain a common species.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Arenaria interpres". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 54, 206. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Parkes, Kenneth (September 1971). "The Ruddy Turnstone as an Egg Predator". The Wilson Bulletin. 83 (3): 306–308. JSTOR 4160107.
  4. ^ Whitfield, D. Philip (February 1990). "Individual Feeding Specializations of Wintering Turnstone Arenaria interpres". Journal of Animal Ecology. 59 (1): 193–211. doi:10.2307/5168. JSTOR 5168.
  5. ^ a b Metcalfe, N.B.; Furness, R.W. (1985). "Survival, winter population stability and site fidelity in the Turnstone Arenaria interpres". Bird Study. 32 (3): 207–214. doi:10.1080/00063658509476881.
  6. ^ Groves, Sarah (January 1978). "Age related Differences in Ruddy Turnstone Foraging and Aggressive Behavior". The Auk. 95 (1): 95–103. doi:10.2307/4085499. JSTOR 4085499.
  7. ^ Whitfield, D. Philip (October 1986). "Plumage variability and territoriality in breeding turnstone Arenaria interpres: status signalling or individual recognition?". Animal Behaviour. 34 (5): 1471–1482. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(86)80218-4.

External links

Belfast Coastal Reserve

Belfast Coastal Reserve is a narrow belt of public land on the Shipwreck Coast about 300 kilometres south-west of Melbourne in the State of Victoria, Australia. Stretching 22 kilometres from Levys Point Reserve at Warrnambool in the east, to Belfast Lough at Port Fairy in the west, it comprises rocky reefs, sandy beaches, coastal dunes, salt marshes and estuaries.

Originally set aside for recreation, education and conservation, the reserve has been severely degraded due to neglect and inappropriate use, for example commercial activities such as sand mining and grazing, and high-impact recreational activities such as off-road driving. School and community groups, together with natural resource and land managers, have worked over recent decades to restore native vegetation to improve biodiversity, habitat and stabilise the dunes.

Many rare and endangered animals are either resident in the reserve, such as the Eastern Mourning Skink, or inhabit the reserve seasonally, such as the Orange-bellied Parrot. The reserve is sited on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and is an important feeding ground for international migratory shorebirds in their non-breeding season, such as the Ruddy Turnstone. The area is also a home to Victoria's largest population of Hooded Plovers, and southern right whales and dolphins may appear in the reserve's waters.The reserve retains strong cultural heritage values for the Gunditjmara people. Remains of the legendary Mahogany Ship are purported to be located within the reserve. Ever-changing seascapes and sweeping beaches make Belfast Coastal Reserve a popular destination for holiday makers and overseas visitors.

Black turnstone

The black turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala) is a species of small wading bird. It is one of two species of turnstone in the genus Arenaria the ruddy turnstone (A. interpres) being the other. It is now classified in the sandpiper family, Scolopacidae, but was formerly sometimes placed in the plover family, Charadriidae. It is native to the west coast of North America and breeds only in Alaska.

Boat Harbour (Kurnell)

Boat Harbour is a small beach located on the north-eastern side of the Kurnell Peninsula in Sydney, Australia.

East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a migratory bird sanctuary in Kivalliq, Nunavut, Canada. It is located in East Bay, an arm of Hudson Bay, in southeast Southampton Island. The nearest community is Coral Harbour, 44 mi (71 km) to the west. It is one of two bird sanctuaries on the island, the other being the Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary, situated 87 mi (140 km) to the southwest.Established 1 January 1959, and consisting of 113,800 hectares it is rated Category IV by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Of its 1,138 km2 (439 sq mi)

in overall size, 1,664 km2 (642 sq mi) is a marine area with marine, intertidal, and subtidal components.

East Sanday Coast

The East Sanday Coast is a protected wetland area on and around the island of Sanday, the third-largest of the Orkney islands off the north coast of Scotland. With a total protected area of 1,515 hectares, the 55 kilometre stretch of coast includes rocky and sandy sections, sand dunes, machair habitats, intertidal flats, and saltmarsh. It has been protected as a Ramsar Site since 1997.The area supports a large number of over-wintering waders and waterbirds, including internationally important populations of purple sandpiper and ruddy turnstone. It is also important for breeding populations of great black-backed gulls and common seals.As well as the East Sanday Coast being recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, the whole of the island of Sanday has been designated a Special Area of Conservation.

Juan Lembeye

Juan Lembeye (Ferrol, 1816 – Culleredo, 1889) was a Spanish naturalist.

Lembeye was the author of Aves de la Isla de Cuba (1850), the only book of bird illustrations to be published in Cuba. Born in Galicia, Lembeye lived in Cuba from the 1830s to the 1860s, and became interested in birds while he was there. The majority of the 38 drawings in Lembeye's book were copied from the royal octavo plates of John James Audubon; in some cases, he even copied the plants depicted in the background. Bee hummingbird was described in his book first time, Mellisuga helenae Gundlach

Lembeye discovered Cuban solitaire (Myadestes elisabeth) and yellow-headed warbler (Teretistris fernandinae), and is commemorated in the specific name of Cuban gnatcatcher, Polioptila lembeyei. His colleagues included Juan Gundlach and Victor López Seoane.


Kahvankari is a small uninhabited island in the Finnish sector of the Bay of Bothnia offshore from the city of Oulu.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is a National Wildlife Refuge on the northwest coast of the island of Kauaʻi in Hawaiʻi.

Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station

Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station (Portuguese: Estação ecológica de Maracá-Jipioca) is an ecological station covering two islands about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) offshore from Amapá, a municipality in Amapá state, Brazil. It protects an area of coastal mangroves and tropical rainforest.

Moose River (Ontario)

The Moose River is a river in the Hudson Plains ecozone of northern Ontario, Canada. The river flows 100 km northeast from the junction of the Mattagami and Missinaibi Rivers into James Bay. Its drainage basin is 108,500 square kilometres (41,900 sq mi) and it has a mean discharge rate of 1,370 cubic metres (48,000 cu ft). Its full length is 547 kilometres (340 mi) if counted from the head of the Mattagami River.This river formed part of the water route to Lake Superior in the days of the fur trade. Moose Factory, located on Moose Factory Island near the river's mouth, was a fur trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company and Ontario's first English settlement. Moosonee, on the north bank of the river, is the northern terminus of the Polar Bear Express railway route which begins at Cochrane, Ontario.

Muzhappilangad Beach

Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach (5.5 km length) is a beach in the state of Kerala in southwestern India. It is located parallel to National Highway 66(formerly National Highway 17) between Thalassery and Kannur.

Probolocoryphe glandulosa

Probolocoryphe glandulosa is a digenean parasite in the genus Probolocoryphe of family Microphallidae. Recorded hosts include the clapper rail (Rallus crepitans), ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), raccoon (Procyon lotor), little blue heron (Ardea caerulea), Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia), black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), and marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris).

Ras Al Khor

Ras Al Khor (Arabic: رَأْس ٱلْخَوْر‎, romanized: Raʾs Al-Khawr) is a wetland reserve in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, renowned for attracting migratory birds in large numbers. The wetlands have large numbers of birds, crustaceans, small mammals and fish.Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary represents an enclave of relative wilderness amidst swirling traffic and sprawling urban infrastructure. Located just as the name in Arabic suggests - at the Cape of the Creek, it is among the few urban protected areas of the world.

The Dubai Municipality has taken great efforts to protect and preserve the biodiversity of this delicate ecosystem. The wetland has been fenced off from the public and three birding hides have been built. The bird hides are a first step towards development of more elaborate visitor education facilities in the protected area. WWF UAE Project Office collaborated with Dubai Municipality's Environment Department, in setting up the facilities that were sponsored by the National Bank of Dubai.

Opportunities for experiencing a natural environment in this rapidly building-up emirate are so limited that the opening of Ras Al Khor to visitors is a boon to present and potential nature lovers.

Presently there are three birding hides located on the perimeter of the sanctuary open to the public. Entrance is free and operate from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Saturday to Thursday.

Ras Al Khor is also home to about 500 greater flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus), which has become something of a mascot for Dubai's Wild Life protection program.

Saloum Delta

Saloum Delta or Sine-Saloum Delta is a river delta in Senegal at the mouth of the Saloum River where it flows into the North Atlantic Ocean. The delta covers 180,000 hectares. It extends 72.5 kilometers along the coastline and 35 kilometers inland.In 2011, a 145,811-hectare portion of the delta was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site contains "brackish channels encompassing over 200 islands and islets, mangrove forest, an Atlantic marine environment, and dry forest." Saloum Delta National Park covers 76,000 hectares of the delta.

The bird species that breed or winter in the area include royal tern, greater flamingo, Eurasian spoonbill, curlew sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, and little stint. Aside from being a valued breeding ground for birds, the delta contains 218 shellfish mounds and artefacts unearthed at some 28 of the burial grounds have provided an important insight into the history of human occupation in the area.

Saloum Delta National Park

Saloum Delta National Park or Parc National du Delta du Saloum in Senegal, is a 76,000-hectare (190,000-acre) national park. Established in 1976, it is situated within the Saloum Delta at the juncture of the Saloum River and the North Atlantic.

The park, which forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Convention site, lies within a 180,000 ha (440,000-acre) biosphere reserve. Water comprises 61,000 ha (150,000 acres) of the park, intertidal mangroves and saltwater vegetation cover 7,000 ha (17,000 acres), and savannah and forest cover 8,000 ha (20,000 acres). It lies on the East Atlantic Flyway. The bird species that breed or winter in the area include royal tern, greater flamingo, Eurasian spoonbill, curlew sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, and little stint.

St. François Atoll

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Storö-Bockö-Lökaö Nature Reserve

Storö-Bockö-Lökaö Nature Reserve (Swedish: Storö-Bockö-Lökaö naturreservat, also known as Möjaskärgården or Möja archipelago) is a nature reserve in Stockholm County in Sweden.

The nature reserve consists of more than 150 islands of different sizes on the border between the outer and middle parts of Stockholm archipelago. The vegetation on the outer islands is dominated by birch, while the other islands are dominated by pine. The undergrowth is generally sparse, apart from in the occasional small valley, where vegetation can be relatively lush with oak trees and other deciduous trees. Several of the islands also contain areas of swamp forest. The bird-life is rich, with species such as velvet scoter, tufted duck, common eider, ruddy turnstone, skua and black guillemot found here.


Turnstones are two bird species that comprise the genus Arenaria in the family Scolopacidae. They are closely related to calidrid sandpipers and might be considered members of the tribe Calidriini.The genus Arenaria was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) as the type species. The genus name arenaria is from Latin arenarius, "inhabiting sand", from arena, "sand".The genus contains two species: the ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and the black turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala). Both birds are distinctive medium-sized waders. Their length is typically between 20 and 25 cm, with a wingspan between 50 and 60 cm and a body mass between 110 and 130gm. For waders their build is stocky, with short, slightly upturned, wedge shaped bills. They are high Arctic breeders, and are migratory. Their strong necks and powerful, slightly upturned bills are adapted to their feeding technique. As the name implies, these species overturn stones, seaweed, and similar items in search of invertebrate prey. They are strictly coastal, prefer stony beaches to sand, and often share beach space with other species of waders such as purple sandpipers.

Their appearance in flight is striking, with white patches on the back, wings and tail.

The ruddy turnstone (or just turnstone in Europe), Arenaria interpres, has a circumpolar distribution, and is a very long distance migrant, wintering on coasts as far south as South Africa and Australia. It is thus a common sight on coasts almost everywhere in the world.

In breeding plumage, this is a showy bird, with a black-and-white head, chestnut back, white underparts and red legs. The drabber winter plumage is basically brown above and white below.

This is a generally tame bird and is an opportunist feeder. Unlike most waders, it will scavenge, and has a phenomenal list of recorded food items, including human corpses and coconut.

The call is a staccato tuck- tuck- tuck.

The ruddy turnstone is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

The black turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala) has a similar structure to its widespread relative, but has black upperparts and chest, and white below. It has a much more restricted range than the ruddy turnstone, breeding in western Alaska, and wintering mainly on the Pacific coast of the United States.

There exists a fossil bone, a distal piece of tarsometatarsus found in the Edson Beds of Sherman County, Kansas. Dating from the mid-Blancan some 4-3 million years ago, it appears to be from a calidriid somewhat similar to a pectoral sandpiper, but has some traits reminiscent of turnstones. Depending on which traits are apomorphic and plesiomorphic, it may be an ancestral representative of either lineage.

Wildlife of Senegal

The wildlife of Senegal consists of the flora and fauna of this nation in West Africa. Senegal has a long Atlantic coastline and a range of habitat types, with a corresponding diversity of plants and animals. Senegal has 188 species of mammals and 674 species of bird.


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