by Alex Forsythe
The Ruddy Turnstone has a beautiful pattern that blends perfectly with the pebbles and shells on the beach and is distinctive in flight. But how did it get its name? The common name came from its foraging behavior. The Turnstone turns over stones, shells and other debris along the beach to find aquatic invertebrates and insects. They are particularly talented at opening and devouring barnacles, and they have been known to work together to move or flip over larger objects.
You’ll see these birds scuttling along the shoreline, their legs moving so quickly it’s difficult to count their steps. They are among the most cooperative birds, allowing people to get relatively close to them. Photographing them can be a challenge; they tend to stay on the move!
The Turnstone is one of the most northerly breeding shorebirds, nesting in the arctic in the summer on rocky coasts and marshes. The nest is a simple scrape in the ground, often lined with vegetation. The chicks are quickly independent; they are able to leave the nest and feed themselves just a day or two after they hatch, but the parents continue to care for them for about three weeks.
The females are mostly responsible for incubation. However, the females begin their migration before the nestlings have fledged, leaving the males to care for the young for another week or more. Ruddy Turnstones migrate in flocks traveling at about 39 mph for about 40 days on their northward migration, but at slower speeds and about twice as many days on their southward migration (“Geolocator Studies on Ruddy Turnstones” by Minton, et al. 2010).
Young birds often remain in the wintering grounds during their first year, rather than migrate up to the summer nesting grounds. They do not reach sexual maturity until their second year. On average, they live about 9 years, but the oldest recorded Turnstone was over 19 years old!