Either at rest or in flight, the ruddy turnstone is easily the most striking of arctic shorebirds. Its
back and wings are brilliant rusty-red with broad, distinct black bands and white splashes, and its
head, rump and underparts are white. The black area on its breast continues up onto its face, the
sides of its neck and some spots on its head. In winter, the ruddy turnstone has white underparts
and dull brown upper parts, with a brown patch on each side of the breast at the shoulder.
Although males and females have the same overall plumage pattern, males tend to be smaller and
brighter. The ruddy turnstone is 20–25 cm in length – a bit smaller than a robin – and although it
belongs to the sandpiper family, its dumpy shape and relatively short, heavy bill are more
characteristic of a plover (Charadriidae).
The ruddy turnstone breeds throughout most of the Arctic islands, being absent only from the
eastern portions of Baffin Island and from some of the small islands to the west of Ellesmere
Island. It inhabits dry tundra with dwarf shrubs, preferably near water and usually not far from the
coast. Ruddy turnstone nests consist of depressions on the open tundra, in which three to five
eggs are laid and incubated for 21–22 days, mostly by the female. The male is territorial and
aggressively defends the nest against trespassers. The young are precocial, downy and able to
run soon after hatching. The female leaves her offspring before they can fly and migrates south
for the winter, followed at a later date by the young birds. Turnstones occasionally stay with the
same mate for more than one season.
The ruddy turnstone eats a variety of aquatic invertebrates including molluscs, crustaceans and
worms. It has also been known to eat other birds' eggs, in particular those of terns. When feeding,
the ruddy turnstone commonly associates with other species of shorebirds, partitioning food
resources with them. As their name suggests, turnstones feed by turning over small objects, such
as stones, shells, or clumps of algae, in search of prey. They also pick food off the ground, and
probe or dig into the soil or mud to find buried invertebrates. The ruddy turnstone is a long
distance migrant, travelling from the Arctic to as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Argentina! Some
birds do not travel quite this far, overwintering instead along rocky coastlines in the southern
United States and Central America.
I picked this bird as mascot because it is their
character to overturn stones and pebbles and
dig large holes in pursuit of food. Marine
surveyors should be just as earnest when
examining a vessel. (Aside from digging large