Photo: Jukka Jantunen/Vireo

Black Turnstone

Arenaria melanocephala

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.
Conservation status Some data from the Pacific Northwest suggest declining numbers in recent decades.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat 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.
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.
Photo Gallery
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.


Eggs

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


Young

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.

Diet

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.


Nesting

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A grating rattle similar to that of Ruddy Turnstone.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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