One of my favorite shorebirds is the small sandpiper called a ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Their coloring is a mix of black, white and reddish colors, with adults being more brightly colored when mating and breeding.
These birds are very territorial during the breeding season; they recognize variations in plumage patterns and can identify individuals, which helps them chase away intruders into their territories. Pairs are monogamous when breeding and may mate for several years.
When they fly, a stunning pattern is revealed in their spread wings, with striking white patches and bars.
The name turnstone comes from the fact that the birds tend to turn over stones while foraging for insects, crustaceans, worms and mollusks. Several birds may cooperate to overturn larger rocks. This carnivorous diet is supplemented with moss, fruit and berries. Occasionally, the turnstones have also been seen to prey on the eggs of other birds but this behavior appears to be uncommon.
They search for their food on rocky outcroppings, among stones, in sand and the ground, inserting their bills into the earth or flipping over seaweed to find meals hidden there.
These small birds breed in Northern arctic and tundra regions and then migrate South in the winter, quite often returning to the same wintering grounds each year. Their chicks leave the nest within hours after hatching and abandon the nest within a day. It is the males who take on the major childrearing tasks, guarding the territorial perimeters and warning the female when predators (owls, merlins, gulls, foxes) are near. They also show the young fledglings where to find food after the females have left to pursue other activities.
Outside breeding season and during winter migration, the birds are quite sociable. They have been seen preening and grooming for long periods.
The populations of ruddy turnstones are fairly stable and they are not threatened at this time – good news for the bird lovers among us!