The boldly patterned plumage of the Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, make it one of the easiest waders to identify in the field. A dark, wedge-shaped bill and short, orange-red legs give this bird a stocky appearance that is unmistakable.

Three Ruddy turnstones standing on a rock

Non-breeding adults have a brown and grey head patterned with black. Their breast is white with pale patches and black or brown markings. During the breeding season, their brown upperparts become chestnut mottled with black. Black and white accentuates the head, neck and breast. 

Ruddy turnstone - breeding plumage
Breeding plumage - April to September
Ruddy turnstone - non-breeding plumage
Non-breeding plumage - October to March

Although mostly similar in appearance, males typically display a brighter breeding plumage than females, and a slightly paler non-breeding plumage. Juveniles are generally duller in colour, with extensive pale brown markings over their head and shoulders, as well as upper body feathers with pale fringes. 

When in flight, look out for a white stripe down their back, a white rump, black tail stripe and white stripes on the wings!

Ruddy Turnstones in flight
Ruddy Turnstones in flight

As their name implies, the Ruddy Turnstone is renowned for using their bill to turn over stones, shells, rocks and seaweed when searching for food. They  mostly eat crustaceans, worms, spiders, insects and molluscs but are also known to consume bird eggs, fish, human food scraps and carrion.

In non-breeding season, the Ruddy Turnstone is found in coastal locations all around the world, including Australia, with some sporadic inland recordings. They tend to frequent exposed rock coast lines and reefs, as well as rocky beaches and shallow tidal pools. A number of other habitats occupied by Ruddy Turnstones include sand beaches, estuaries, exposed seagrass beds and mudflats.

Ruddy Turnstones breed in the Northern Hemisphere, in sites along the coats of Asia, Europe, and North America. These sites are normally north of 60 degrees latitude, making the Ruddy Turnstone one of the most northerly breeding shorebirds. 

Females build the nests by lining small depressions using surrounding vegetation, either concealed and with shelter or out in the open. Two to four olive-green or buff speckled eggs are incubated mostly by the female and the chicks cared for by both males and females.

Ruddy Turnstone nest on the ground with four eggs
A Ruddy Turnstone nest with four eggs.
Ruddy turnstone on a nest
Ruddy Turnstone incubating eggs on a nest.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

Least Concern

Australian EPBC Act

Least Concern

Similar Species

Image credits:
Stephanie Stylli
Stephanie has volunteered as an Ambassador Program Project Officer for Wing Threads through Remember the Wild, Australia’s first nature connection charity, since 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology from The University of Melbourne.
Book cover for A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure

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Join Milly on her microlight and discover how amazing and awesome migratory shorebirds are!

Milly Formby is a zoologist and illustrator of the children’s book A Shorebird Flying Adventure (CSIRO Publishing).  She is currently flying her microlight around Australia for Wing Threads: Flight Around Oz.

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