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What is a Ruddy Turnstone?

R. Britton
R. Britton

A ruddy turnstone is a small wading bird. It is a member of the sandpiper family that lays only one clutch of eggs each year. The scientific or taxonomic name of this migratory species is Arenaria interpres. The ruddy turnstone has a very wide geographic range, a very varied diet, and is not considered to be endangered.

One of the smaller members of the sandpiper family, the ruddy turnstone measures only up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length, with a wingspan of 23 inches (57 centimeters). They are found throughout coastal areas, estuaries, and bays across most of the world. This species is not considered endangered or threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) largely because of their large geographic range and wide, varied diet.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

As a wading bird, the ruddy turnstone has long legs in comparison to the body. A wading bird spends a great deal of time in and around shallow water in search of food. The diet of this species is very varied, consisting of insects, shellfish, invertebrates, and bird eggs. If other food is scarce, this small bird will eat any dead fish or animals it can find.

The bill is very hard and sharp. It is wedge-shaped to provide additional strength and more support to the head. This species uses the bill to dig for food, often making deep holes in the sand or silt. The bill is also used to open hard shelled food items and to search among vegetation.

Although these birds often appear ungainly on land, in the air they are both graceful and very quick, reaching speeds of up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour. It is often confused with the black turnstone, which has a slower flight. The ruddy turnstone also has slightly different color plumage and legs that are usually a more vivid yellow to orange than its close relative. This species has tan brown to orange plumage, mottled with black on the head, back and wings, whereas the black turnstone has duller gray to black plumage.

The female digs a shallow depression in the earth to nest in. She chooses a nesting site close to an abundant food source and usually among dense vegetation to provide some camouflage and shelter from potential predators. This species usually only lays one clutch of between two and five eggs per year unless disaster strikes the first clutch early on, in which case the parents often try again. Females are responsible for incubation and most of the rearing; the males protect the nesting site and bring food back to the female when she is unable to leave the eggs. After four weeks, the eggs hatch; in a further three weeks the chicks begin to fledge.

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    • Veterinarian with a puppy
      Veterinarian with a puppy