Bird GuideSandpipersBlack Turnstone

At a Glance

This is a characteristic bird of wave-washed rocky shorelines along the Pacific Coast in winter. Against the background of dark rocks it is hard to see when it sits still, but it is usually moving, clambering about in search of barnacles and limpets.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Apparently follows the coastline closely in spring migration. In fall, some birds may take a shortcut across the Gulf of Alaska, flying southeast across the water from western Alaska rather than taking the long way along the coast.


9" (23 cm). Blackish, with white belly. White face marks in breeding plumage. In winter, blacker than Ruddy Turnstone, legs usually duller. Both turnstones show strong pattern in flight. Darker than Surfbird or Rock Sandpiper, with different bill shape.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A grating rattle similar to that of Ruddy Turnstone.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Rattle, Trill


Strictly coastal. Rocky shores, breakwaters, islets; nests on coastal tundra. In migration and winter, typically found in rocky sites along coast, such as rocky shoreline, jetties, breakwaters; also on mudflats and sand beaches at times. Breeds in Alaska on wet tundra near estuaries or lagoons, very close to coast.



4, sometimes 3. Yellowish-green to olive, blotched with dark brown. Incubation is by both sexes, usually 22-24 days.


Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young at first, but female usually leaves after about 2 weeks, leaving male to care for them; young find all their own food. Young can make short flights after about 23 days, can fly well at about 28-30 days.

Feeding Behavior

On coast, forages mostly by walking slowly on rocks. Feeding on acorn barnacle, may insert bill in shell opening and pry it open, or hammer on shell to break it. Limpets and other mollusks are pried from rocks with pointed bill. On beaches, may turn over rocks, shells, or seaweed to look for food underneath.


Includes barnacles, mollusks, insects. On breeding grounds, may feed heavily on insects, also some seeds and berries. On coast (where it spends most of year), barnacles and limpets are among main foods. Also eats other crustaceans and mollusks, marine worms.


Adults often come back to exact same sites and nest with same mate each year. Male displays with circular flight over territory. Nest site is on ground, usually close to water among grasses or sedges, either in open or hidden by tall vegetation. Nest (probably built by both parents) is shallow depression, lined with grasses.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Some data from the Pacific Northwest suggest declining numbers in recent decades.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black Turnstone. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Black Turnstone

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.