Ruddy Turnstone
Arenaria interpres - Linnaeus
Scolopacidae (Sandpiper) Family


Photo courtesy Mike Carter, Pensacola, Florida

The Ruddy Turnstone 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.

It is now classified in the sandpiper family, but was formerly placed in the plover family. It is a highly migratory bird, breeding in the 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."

It is a fairly small and stocky bird, 8.7 – 9.4 inches long with a wingspan of 20 – 22 inches and a weight of 3.0 – 5.3 ounces. The dark, wedge-shaped bill is about 0.98 inch long and slightly upturned. The legs are fairly short at 1.4 inch 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 wing bar, white patch near the base of the wing and white lower back, rump and tail with dark bands on the upper tail-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 upper part feathers creating a scaly impression.

Ruddy Turnstone is a stout bird with a striking black-and-white head and bib, black-and-chestnut back, and orange legs. Females are slightly duller in color than males. The bib pattern and orange leg color are retained in winter plumage. Juvenile birds resemble winter adults but the back will have a scaly appearance. The preferred habitat of the Ruddy Turnstone is coastal tundra. Rarely seen beyond seashore.

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