Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

As their name suggests, turnstones feed by turning over small objects, such as stones, shells, or clumps of algae, in search of prey.


Either at rest or in flight, the ruddy turnstone is easily the most striking of the Arctic shorebirds. Its back and wings are brilliant rusty-red with broad, distinct black bands and white splashes, and its head, rump and underparts are white. The black area on its breast continues up onto its face, the sides of its neck and some spots on its head. In winter, the ruddy turnstone has white underparts and dull brown upper parts, with a brown patch on each side of the breast at the shoulder. Although males and females have the same overall plumage pattern, males tend to be smaller and brighter. The ruddy turnstone is 20-25 cm in length- a bit smaller than a robin- and although it belongs to the sandpiper family, its dumpy shape and relatively short, heavy bill are more characteristic of a plover (Charadriidae).


The ruddy turnstone breeds throughout most of the Arctic islands, being absent only from the eastern portions of Baffin Island and from some of the small islands to the west of Ellesmere Island. The ruddy turnstone is a long distance migrant, travelling from the Arctic to as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Argentina! Some birds do not travel quite this far, overwintering instead along rocky coastlines in the southern United States and Central America.


The ruddy turnstone inhabits dry tundra with dwarf shrubs, preferably near water and usually not far from the coast. Its nests consist of depressions on the open tundra, in which three to five eggs are laid and incubated for 21-22 days, mostly by the female. The male is territorial and aggressively defends the nest against trespassers. The young are precocial, downy and able to run soon after hatching. The female leaves her offspring before they can fly and migrates south for the winter, followed at a later date by the young birds. Turnstones occasionally stay with the same mate for more than one season.

The ruddy turnstone eats a variety of aquatic invertebrates including molluscs, crustaceans and worms. It has also been known to eat other birds' eggs, in particular those of terns. When feeding, the ruddy turnstone commonly associates with other species of shorebirds, partitioning food resources with them. They feed by turning over small objects in search of prey but they also pick food off the ground, and probe or dig into the soil or mud to find buried invertebrates.