The Ruddy turnstone is one of two turnstone species that belongs to genus Arenaria. It has a widespread wintering range, and it is quite common in its native range. It belongs to sandpiper family Scolopacidae, but in past, it used to be occasionally mentioned as a member of plover family Charadriidae. It gets its common name because of its habit of turning over stones or debris in search of food.
Species: A. interpres
The scientific name for Ruddy turnstone is Arenaria interpres.
An adult Ruddy turnstone is around 21 to 24 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 49 to 57 centimeters.
Depending on sex and age, their weight can be between 82 to 150 grams. They posses wedge-shaped, dark bill, which is a bit upturned. They also have short legs that are bright orange in color. The upper part of their plumage is of a harlequin-like motif with black and white. The breeding population are more exuberant in appearance and they exhibit reddish-brown upper-parts along with black markings. The color of the head is primarily black with dark markings. The under-part is all white apart from the breast area, which is black. Females are a little duller compared to males. The head of the female specimen is more brownish with more streaks. Noe-breeding population tends to be less exuberant in appearance with greyish-brown upperparts, and the color of their head is mostly black with white streaks. Juveniles possess pale brownish head as well as pale fringes to the upper-part feathers.
These species prefer to breed through the rocky coastlines; as well as in the tundra region over the High Arctic.
In North America, they breed in thinly dispersed vegetated tundra near lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes. During migration and winter, they mostly prefer coastal regions with rocky or sandy shorelines, or mudflats, sea-beaches filled with seaweeds, and rock jetties. However, migration may also take them inland areas instead of seashores.
Arenaria interpres is known to be one of northerly breeding bird species. They have a breeding range throughout the Arctic – starting from Alaska in the west to Greenland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia, the northern part of Russia, and to all the way to Siberia in the east.
A. i. Interpres spend the winter on the seashores of Pacific coasts of North America, coasts of western Europe, Africa, South Asia, Australia as well as the South Pacific islands. A. I morinella’s wintering range goes from southern United States (such as Florida, Hawaii etc.), across Central America, the Caribbean islands to as far as Tierra del Fuego in South America.
They walk with conceited gait along rocky shorelines, occasionally flipping small rocks, stones, seaweeds, or other debris in order to look for food; thus receiving the common name Ruddy turnstone. They are quite strong fliers. They can take sharp turns while in flight like other shorebirds. Breeding pairs are monogamous, and they are known to be territorial on the mating grounds. If one half of the pair survives, they return to the same breeding region every year. Following the nesting season, unsuccessful breeding pairs are the first to leave the breeding ground, followed by females, then males, and finally the juveniles. During migration, they gather in huge groups and fly along rocky shorelines in unison.
Their courtship ritual includes male going after a female both on the ground and in the air.
Males can also often be seen approaching a female in hunched posture with the occasional flicking of the tail. The nest is made on the ground, mostly concealed among plants or rocks. The female makes a hollow on a surface lined with leaves. Females lay 2 to 3 eggs that are of olive green to olive buff colored along with dark blotch. Most female Ruddy turnstones lay eggs within seven days upon arrival at the mating site. Incubation is mostly done by the female while male look after its territory. Incubation goes on for 22 to 24 days. Juveniles leave the nest shortly following hatching. Male take care of the hatchlings, while the female leaves the nest before the young ones can even fly. The male brings food to the young. They take their first flight when they are 20 to 21 days old, and become independent thereafter.
Their food habit is variable. During breeding season, they mostly feed on insects, spiders, seeds, moss and berries.
During the non-breeding season, they feed on crabs, amphipods, arnacles, small fishes, molluscs, sea urchins and worms. At times, they can be seen feeding on carrion and also will food scraps from garbage dumps. They have also been noted to prey on the eggs of other small birds.
Their lifespan is around 9 years. The longest recorded lifespan is 19 years and 2 months.
The Ruddy turnstone produce a rattling, staccato call that sounds like ‘tuk-a-tuk.’ They also produce a rapid alarm call during the breeding season.
Major threats to their existence include changes in ecosystems, shortage of food resources due to overfishing, as well as habitat loss throughout their migration stopovers.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Least concern’ category. However, both the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network has listed them like a bird of high conservation concern.
In 1999, their estimated breeding population in North America was 267000, but it was reduced by 8% in the year 2006 standing at 245000. Another study showed that their Delaware Bay population decreased by 77% from 1988 to 2007.
Environment Canada report suggests that their population has decreased sharply compared to when it was in the 1970s. The current population is somewhere between 100000 to 500000 adults.
The Ruddy turnstone is often confused with the Black turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala). But they can be easily distinguished by the color of their legs as its orange in Ruddy turnstone, while it is black in Black turnstone.
Arenaria interpres does not breed in the United Kingdom or Ireland, but they can be seen all through the year. In this region, they are also known as Turnstone or European turnstone; and specifically in Ireland, they are also called ‘Beach-ransacker.’ From 2000 to 2009, their UK population has gone down by thirteen percent.
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