110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Ruddy turnstones seldom try to eat a whole fish
By Lynn Bowen
posted Apr 28, 2013 - 11:30:12am
Ruddy turnstones are aptly named because, using their upturned bills, they flip over rocks, shells, seaweed and debris, searching for food on beaches. They are fun to watch as they also flick, bulldoze, peck, dig and probe.
The turnstone in the photo accompanying this column must have been deliriously happy to find a dead catfish on the beach that no other bird had found! For five minutes, I watched him try to peck and eat the fish, but he couldn't break the tough skin. Over and over, he dodged the incoming tide by flying for a minute when the waves were too close. Then he landed in the wet sand to again attempt to eat his feast.
A ruddy turnstone is 9.5 inches long, has a 21-inch wingspan, and weighs only 4 ounces. He is easy to identify with those tangerine-colored legs and feet, white underside, and brown mottled upper body, neck and head.
At breeding time, from April through September, he becomes very colorful, with rusty-colored wings and a black, rounded patch on his neck like a bib, and a black-and-white design on his head. A bold white-and-dark wing pattern is visible when he's in flight. The female looks the same except that she is duller-colored. In both sexes, the rusty feathers become brown in winter.
In the summer, ruddy turnstones mainly eat insects. In other seasons, they eat invertebrates, including mollusks and worms, and also horseshoe-crab eggs and tern eggs. They peck a hole in the eggs and enjoy the contents. Seldom do they try to eat a whole fish.
Ruddy turnstones breed along the coastline, from Alaska east to Greenland, and they winter along the coasts from Oregon and Connecticut to South America. Their nests are small, deep holes on rocky ground.
Isn't it great that these hardy shorebirds enjoy Florida? Some non-breeding ones even stay all year long!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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