Ruddy Turnstone

Arenaria interpres
Range Map

We find Ruddy Turnstones on the shores of every continent except Antarctica. They breed on lands bordering the north pole, and spend their winters further south, some as far as Argentina, South Africa, southern Australia and New Zealand.

Turnstones use their short upturned beaks to flip rocks and debris in search of food items. The Ruddy Turnstone breeds a little further north and winters further south than its cousin the Black Turnstone, which we only find on the west coast in winter.

Turnstones have specialized feet with spiky pads and curved toenails that permit them to walk over wet, slippery surfaces and forage where other creatures would falter. This helps them navigate hazardous areas where other birds would struggle.

Despite their wide range, science only recognises two subspecies of Ruddy Turnstone:

  • A. i. interpres breeds from Arctic Canada northeastern Greenland, and across arctic Eurasia to northwestern Alaska. They spend winters from southwestern Europe south to southern Africa, India, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • A. i. morinella breeds from northeastern Alaska east through the southern islands of the Canadian Arctic, such as Queen Elizabeth Island, south to Baffin, and other regional islands. There is a local breeding population in western Greenland that science believes is of this subspecies. They spend winters mainly from the southern USA along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts, on islands of the Caribbean, West Indies, and along both coasts of South America south to Tierra del Fuego.

I enjoy meeting these birds wherever I find them. In southern California, we are blessed with the company of both the Black and Ruddy Turnstones. They are the only members of the turnstone clan (Genus: Arenaria) in the world. When I visited Texas in 2020 and 2021, I learned only these Ruddy Turnstones dance on their shores.

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