ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Turnstone { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 1, 2015

Eurasian Turnstone

In breeding plumage
In breeding plumage | Source


The Turnstone Arenaria interpres is often referred to as the Ruddy turnstone and belongs to the Order of birds known as the Charadriiformes and the family Scopacidae within that family. The genus name of Arenaria indicates sand loving and the specific name derives from the Latin indicating a messenger.

In the UK it is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern {declines of between 25-50% over the last forty years or so}, due to an important non-breeding populations {over wintering birds} In the UK they are classed as a scarce breeder and passage winter visitor . The estimated population in winter is between 48,000 and 51,000 birds.{ source BTO}

In Ireland it is Green listed {no current concerns} and in Europe it is considered to be secure. The European population is estimated at between 31,000-64,000 pairs. the populations vary from country to country here are a few examples . Denmark between 37,000-41,000 breeding pairs.Greenland 20,000- 40,000 breeding pairs. Norway 5,000-15,000 breeding pairs Russia 2,700-17,000 breeding pairs. and Sweden 2,000-4,000 breeding pairs. {source Birdlife}

The Gaelic name for the bird is Trllechan-becry the Welsh Cwtiad y Traeth and the Irish Piard lai Tr

Courtesy of Mark Vance

What are Scolopacidae

The large family is often sub-divided into groups of similar birds. For instance the Curlews of the genus Numenius, Upland Sandpiper of the genus Bartramia, Godwits of the genus Limosa, Dowitchers of the genus Limnodronius, Gallingo and Scolopax,25+ species The Phalaropes of the genus Phalaropus, Shanks and Tattlers of the genera Xenus,Aitlitis and Tringa which now includes the Catoptrophorus and Heteroscelus The Polynesain Sandpipers of the genus Prosobonia and the Calidrids and Turnstones of which there are 25+ species.

As we can see this is a very large family of birds within many genera.

For information about the Charadriiformes the order of birds to which this family belongs see my hub Oystercatcher.{ Birds of Europe}

Here we concentrate on just a single species the turnstone Arenaria interpres and as always we begin with a description of the species under review.

Turnstone and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source

Description of the Turnstone

This species is smaller than the Redshank and have a mottled appearance with brown or chestnut and black upper parts and brown and white or black and white head patterning,whilst the under parts are white. The legs are orange.

They spend most of their time creeping and fluttering over rocks,picking out food from under stones a habit that earned them their common name.

According to Butler [1898], The male in summer has a bare hatching spot on either side of the breast. The bill is black,slightly turned upwards. The iris is umber,forehead and lores,a patch behind the eye,back of neck,lower back,they and the under surface are generally white. The crown is white with broad,black,shaft-stripes. The upper surface generally black,with a bronzy sheen and broad chestnut tips to the feathers of the scapulars,tertiaries and greater wing coverts.

A black moustache from the base of the lower mandible to the breast,joining the broad black pectoral belt,and sending upwards on either side a curved black line in front of the eye.{ which does not reach the base of the upper mandible,as Saunder's says,nor do the two meet in the middle in full 'summer-dress',though they do in birds on our shores on the southward journey,which are only in partial 'summer-dress'},and another broader line which goes halfway round the bottom of the neck.

The feet and legs are a rich orange,claws black. The birds are nine inches long.

The female is a slightly duller copy of the male with less chestnut above. In winter old birds tend to loose nearly all the rufous upper parts and much of the orange on the legs. The winter plumage acts as good camouflage among the rocks. In flight during the winter it appears a marbled black and white appearance.

American species Arenaria melanocephala,in non-breeding plumage



Taken in Hawaii
Taken in Hawaii | Source

General information and background.

The birds were formerly placed in the genus Strepsilas, and are present in the UK for most of the year. Birds from Northern Europe pass through in July and August and again in spring. Canadian and Greenland birds arrive in August and September and remain until April or May. Non-breeding birds may stay throughout the summer.

A good many waders {shore birds USA} do not breed, and are encountered,in partial or complete summer plumage south of their true breeding grounds. Whether these non-breeders are some of last years birds { which seems possible}, or whether there is a temporary predominance of one sex, so that all cannot find mates is difficult to determine.

They feed on the shores and seems to pay little attention to the state of the tide,than many other wading birds,feeding at high and low water impartially. In the former case the bird can easily be observed and enjoyed. It then frequents on the line of the high water mark and hunts busily among the rubbish for sand-hoppers and the larvae of flies which breed there in abundance.

When feeding it employs the curious motion which has gained it its common name almost all over the world. It inserts its bill under a stone or shell, or more usually a heap of seaweed, then, with a funny upward jerk of its whole body, the object is suddenly lifted and turned over,and the bird quickly picks up any small creatures which have been concealed underneath.

Here in the UK the Turnstone is generally a silent bird especially so on the ground, on the wing uttering a low rapid unmelodious twitter or 'chuckle'. However, in the more northern parts of Europe it is much more vocal with a loud clear and not unpleasing note on the wing in a rapid and continuous manner. The birds are of social habits both among themselves and towards different kinds, but are shy otherwise of approach

Turnstone in shallow water

Uploaded from Dutch Wikipedia by Osamak
Uploaded from Dutch Wikipedia by Osamak | Source

Turnstone flying

originally posted to Flickr uploaded by russavia
originally posted to Flickr uploaded by russavia | Source

Historical observations of the Turnstone

The following extraordinary occurrence is narrated by Mr. Edward in the Zoologist Publication pages 3007-8-9 {1800's.}----

" Passing along the seashore on the west of Banff, I observed on the sands,at a considerable distance before me, two birds beside a large looking object. knowing by their appearance that they did not belong to the species which are usually met with in this quarter,I left the beach,and proceeded along the adjoining links,an eminence of shingle intervening, until I concluded that I was opposite the spot where the objects of my search were employed.

" Stooping down with my gun upon my back,prepared for action,I managed to crawl through the bents and across the shingle for a considerable way,when at length I came in sight of two little workers,who were busily endeavouring to turn over a dead fish,which was fully six times their size. I immediately recognized them as Turnstones. Not wishing to disturb them,anxious at the same time to witness their operations,and observing that a few paces nearer to them there was a deep hollow among the shingle, I continued to creep into it unobserved.

" I was now at a distance from them of about ten yards.and had a distinct and unobserved view of all their movements. In these there was evinced that extraordinary degree of sagacity and perseverance, which comes under the notice of only those who watch the habits of the lower creation with patience and assiduity,and which,when fully and accurately related,are not unfrequently discredited by individuals,who although fond of natural history,seem inclined to believe nthat anything in regard of animals must necessarily be false, or at least result of ignorance, unless it has been recorded in books which are considered as an authority on the subject.

" But to return, having got fully settled down in my pebble observatory, I turned my undivided attention to the birds before me. They were busily pushing at the fish with their bills, and then with their breasts, their endeavours,however, where in vein-the object remained immovable. On this they both went round to the opposite side,and began to scape away the sand from close beneath the fish. After removing a considerable quantity, they again came back to the spot which they had left and went once more to work with their bills and breasts but with as little apparent success as formerly.

" Nothing daunted,however, they ran round a second time to the other side,and recommenced their trenching operations,with a seeming determination not to be baffled by their object, which evidently was to undermine the dead animal before them, in order that it might be the more easily overturned. While they were thus employed,and after they had laboured in this manner,at both sides alternately, for nearly half an hour, they were joined by another of their species,which came flying with rapidity from the neighbouring rocks.Its timely arrival was hailed with evident signs of joy.

" I was led to the conclusion from the gestures which they exhibited,and from low but pleasant murmuring noise, to which they gave utterance as soon as the new comer made his appearance, of their feelings he seemed to be perfectly aware,and he made reply to them in a similar strain. Their mutual congratulations being over, they all three fell to work, and after labouring vigorously for a few minutes in removing the sand, they came round to the other side,and putting their breasts simultaneously to the fish they succeeded in raising it some inches from the sand, but were unable to turn it over. It went down again to its sandy bed, to the manifest disappointment of the three.

Resting,however,for a space,and without moving from their respective positions which were a little apart from one another, they resolved, it appears to give the matter another trial. Lowering themselves with their breasts close to the sand, they managed to push their bills beneath the fish,which they to rise to about the same height as before,afterwards, withdrawing their bills, but without loosing their advantage they had gained, they applied their breasts to the object. They did this with such force,and to such purpose, that at length it went over,and rolled several feet down a slight declivity.

" It was followed to some distance by the bird themselves, before they could recover their bearing.They returned eagerly from whence they had dislodged the obstacle which had so long opposed them, and they gave unmistaken proof by their rapid and continued movements, that they were enjoying ample reward of their industrious and praiseworthy labour.

" I was so pleased and even delighted with the sagacity and perseverance which they had shown, that I should have considered myself as guilty of a crime had I endeavoured on this occasion to take away life from these interesting beings at the very moment when they were excelling in a manner so happy for themselves, the wonderful instincts implanted in them by their great and merciful creator.

" When they appeared to have done and be satisfied, I arose from my place of concealment. On examining the fish, I found it to be a specimen of the common cod. It was nearly three feet long and it had been embedded in the sand to about the depth of two feet"

Turnstone non-breeding plumage

originally posted to Flickr uploaded by Magnus Mankse
originally posted to Flickr uploaded by Magnus Mankse | Source

Nest and eggs of the Turnstone

Hewitson, first found the Turnstone nesting on islets off the Norwegian coasts, others like him, encountered it breeding quite close to the high water mark. Butler relates " I had some difficulty, till we found a nest, in persuading my companions when in Kolguiev { Island Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia }, that it nested on low fells a mile or so from the sea. They seem to have no ties to previously tenanted situations.

The nest itself is a slight hollow with a sparse lining near the sea, the nest is often placed under the shelter of a stone, or tall plant, and generally lined with a few grass blades {bents}.

The four eggs are laid about the middle of June { or even later in the far north} and are of a greenish grey-colour spotted and streaked with blue-grey and dark brown, but variety in colour is not unusual. Some being of a green olive colour,some much and others only a little spotted, principally about the obtuse end, with dark grey, olive brown and black,or reddish brown of two shades. They are always cleverly concealed. The incubation is undertaken by both parents and for a period lasting from between twenty two and twenty four days.

When the nestling's hatch out their plumage above and including the sides of the head and neck is a grey fawn colour,warmer on the wings. The lower back mottled with black, under parts white and they have a dusky grey pectoral band.

Picking open a shell

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Amada44
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Amada44 | Source

Young birds.

The young bird have faint traits only of the chestnut on the wing coverts and tertiaries . The upper parts are of a dark brown,with black centres to the feathers and narrow light tips. the back,throat and under-parts are white, the black gorget mixed with brown,and it branches on the sides of the head and neck are barely discernible.

The legs and feet are a dull orange. The young when full grown quit the localities of their birth {in most cases} and in company with their parents move southwards along the coast. These for the most part compose the small flocks of Turnstones that are encountered at that time of the year.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, You are very welcome it is a pleasure to share the beauty of wildlife. Thank you for kind and appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Ann1Az2 LM profile image

      Ann1Az2 LM 

      5 years ago

      As always, a well researched and informative hub. I love this bird when in flight the most - the feathers are extraordinary. Thanks for sharing and making us aware of such beautiful birds.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb , thank you for your encouraging comments, coming from some one who is as knowledgeable about birds as you are this means a lot. thank you. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Indeed the turnstone is a beautiful bird, and most interesting on how they obtained their name, as they al turn stones. As always, wonderful work, and the care in doing this piece was exemplary.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello Devika, your comments are greatly appreciated,glad you enjoyed this one. Thank you for your votes which from you are welcomed. Hope you have a pleasant day also. Best wishes to you.


      Hi, so glad you appreciated the account by Mr.Edward,I try to include such accounts were possible as they are most interesting to share. Thank you for your visits which are always encouraging. best wishes to you.


      Hi, good to see you here, it is a pleasure to share the information with you. Thank you for your vote up, it is much appreciated my friend. best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      5 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi DAL,

      I am from India and know little about European birds. You have provided awesome information in detail about bird in Europe. Photos are nice.

      Rated up and beautiful!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Marvelous, thank you for including the account by Mr. Edward -- totally delightful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So beautiful! I like to read about such lovely creatures. Thank you for such an interesting and well-researched hub. I enjoy reading about birds. Hope you having a pleasant day. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)