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Ruddy Turnstone

Arenaria interpres

Length: 9 to 10 inches Wingspan: 17 to 18 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Strong breeding plumage with black and white face, black breast, and white underparts.  Short orange legs and short dark pointed bill.

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres The Ruddy Turnstone can be found along the coastlines of six continents during the winter, but nest solely in the high Arctic tundra.  They are scarce inland during migration except around the Great Lakes.  In South Dakota, they are found as relatively rare migrants, particularly during spring migration. They are named after their habit of turning over stones, shells, and pieces of wood with their beaks as they search for food, with several birds sometimes cooperating to overturn heavier items. 


Breeds on the high Arctic Tundra.  In migration and in winter, mostly found along rocky shorelines or beaches covered with seaweed and debris. 


Primarily feeds on insects during the summer breeding season, as well as berries, seeds, and moss.  During migration and in winter, will also feed on crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, marine worms, bird eggs, and carrion.

Nesting / Breeding:

Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their nesting grounds in the Arctic, the nest is a shallow scrape, with both males and females making shallow scrapes but with the female ultimately selecting the final nesting location. It may be placed in an area of peat, thin vegetation, or a sandy or muddy location, often in a high spots such as a small hummock or ridge.  Any nest construction other than the scrape is sparse, but it is sometimes lined with a few leaves or other bits of vegetation. The female lays between 2 and 4 eggs, with both parents incubating them. The young hatch after 3 weeks, and leave the nest almost immediately. The young feed themselves, typically following the male, but both parents offer protection. The female leaves the family first, followed by the male, with the young becoming completely independent and free of protection about 3 weeks after hatching.


Vocalizations include a sharp low rattling, sharp short alarm calls, and other chattering calls.


Summers throughout the high Arctic. Winters along all U.S. coastlines, as well as the coastlines of every continent except Antarctica.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Ruddy Turnstone sightings

Similar Species:

Generally distinctive if seen well, particularly with the bolder plumage on breeding season birds. In South Dakota, unlikely to be confused with other shorebird species, but elsewhere could potentially be confused with the following

Black Turnstone - Arenaria melanocephala Black Turnstone - Arenaria melanocephala Surfbird 1- Aphriza virgata Surfbird 8- Aphriza virgata
Black Turnstone Black Turnstone Surfbird Surfbird

Conservation Status:

Generally common and widespread, with healthy populations in parts of a very broad global distribution.  Recent trends show numbers likely increasing in North America, while decreasing in parts of their Eurasian range. Overall, the IUCN currently considers the Ruddy Turnstone to be a species of "least concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot":

In migration they are said to be found along either rocky or sandy beaches, but with rocky beaches something of a rarity in South Dakota (!), I've had the most luck locating them on some of the few, large, sandy beach areas available in the state. The northern edge of Lake Thompson has an extensive sandy beach, and despite their relative rarity as migrants in South Dakota, I have encountered them a number of times there.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 26th, 2014 - Weisensee Slough in western Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Ruddy Turnstone photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Ruddy Turnstone - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant throughout the state.  More common in the northeast, and less common in western South Dakota.

Additional Ruddy Turnstone Photos 
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Ruddy Turnstone 1 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 2 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 3 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 4 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 5 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 6 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 7 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 8 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 9 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone and Sanderling - South Dakota Birds and Birdingfile:///D:/birds/web2/species_photos/shorebirds_rails/ruddy_turnstone_sanderling_2_chip.giffile:///D:/birds/web2/species_photos/shorebirds_rails/ruddy_turnstone_sanderling_2_chip.giffile:///D:/birds/web2/species_photos/shorebirds_rails/ruddy_turnstone_sanderling_2_chip.giffile:///D:/birds/web2/species_photos/shorebirds_rails/ruddy_turnstone_sanderling_2_chip.gifRuddy Turnstone 10 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 11 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 12 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 13 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 14 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 15 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 16 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 17 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 18 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 19 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 20 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 21 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 22 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 23 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 24 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 25 - Arenaria interpresRuddy Turnstone 26 - Arenaria interpres