When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I began exploring the region, and soon afterwards discovered just how many birds there are in this part of the country.
One of my favorite spots to walk was the south end of the Ocean Shores peninsula, from Damon Point on the east to the jetty on the west. During low tide, several varieties of birds were actively feeding on the exposed rocks of the old jetty, prying off mussels and other creatures. One that particularly stood out was the Ruddy Turnstone.
In breeding plumage, its colorful feathers were a real beacon against the darker rocks of the old jetty. I remember thinking there was a bird putting everything he had into advertising for a mate! They are only in our area for a short period of time, but they really make an impression.
The photo by Gregg Thompson is of the male in breeding plumage; hard to miss that!
Size: 9 1/2 inches in length, with a wingspan of about 21 inches, and weighing nearly 4 ounces
General Description: The breeding male Ruddy Turnstone is a stocky, medium-sized shorebird with a dark, fairly short but strong bill, short orange legs, and a black and white boldly patterned face and chest. It has a dark cap, and it’s back is a rich russet color with mottled black and a bit of white. The belly and tail are also white, with all birds displaying a black terminal band. The colors of the juvenile and female birds and the non-breeding male are less showy of course, meant to blend in to avoid detection.
Habitat: The Ruddy Turnstone is another Arctic tundra breeder, as are so many of our shorebird visitors. They can be found in rocky areas of the coast or on the exposed mudflats, and spend most of their time here feeding in preparation for the next leg of their long migration.
Behavior: These turnstones are found in small groups, larger in spring than fall, often with Dunlin and Red Knots. They use their unusually-shaped bill to turn over rocks, driftwood, shells, and seaweed to eat the food hidden underneath. They fly from place to place in tight groups but during migration they fly in loose lines.
Diet: Ruddy Turnstones will eat almost anything they can find underneath objects they turn over. They also eat carrion, small bird eggs, aquatic insects, and worms.
Nesting: Those wonderful patterns on the breeding male’s face are used in display face-offs with rival males over territory and females. The male often digs out a shallow scrape in his territory close to the spot finally chosen by his mate, but no eggs are laid in it. The female builds the nest in her own scrape or depression, then throws in a few leaves as a token lining. It can be on the open ground or among rocks, but is usually hidden by rocks or low-lying shrubs. Both parents incubate four eggs for 22 to 24 days. The young are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching and follow the male to food. But though they can feed themselves, both parents remain to help protect and tend to them for a while longer. The female departs first, leaving the male to watch over the young for another 19 to 21 days, until they can fly.
Migration: Ruddy Turnstones winter throughout every continent except Antarctica, traveling the coasts from their Arctic nesting grounds to their over-wintering spots along the southern coast of the United States and as far south as South America. With the warming of the seas, we are beginning to see some birds over-winter here on the harbors, but most still participate in mass migrations.
Conservation Status: The estimates of the total population of Ruddy Turnstones is nearly 450,000 birds, with approximately 235,000 of those breeding in North America and the rest throughout the Arctic. Their stable numbers are due to their remote breeding range and their widespread winter range.
When and Where to Find In Grays Harbor: Ruddy Turnstones are most commonly seen migrating through in the spring, stopping off to feed on our local mudflats and sandy beaches, and scrounging on the rocks of the jetties on the outer coast.