Skagit Audubon

Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Black Turnstone

by Jeff Sinker

Mostly dark brown with some black and white mixed in, this small stocky shorebird can be hard to spot among the rocks along the Pacific coastline.  Black Turnstones possess a sharp chisel-like bill that they use to pry open the shells of mussels and snails they find while probing among the rocks.  They also flip over small rocks to pluck brine flies, spiders and fish eggs from underneath and have been observed plowing headfirst through piles of seaweed or kelp on sandy beaches in search of food.  During breeding season, they add seeds, berries, insects, and the eggs of other tundra ground-nesting birds to their diet.

Black Turnstones are dependent upon Arctic coastal lowlands where sedges and small ponds are dominant, and a few birds can be found farther inland at higher elevations where willow is present.  Mating behavior involves both vocalizations and flight displays performed by both males and females.  Pairs are monogamous and may reunite the following breeding season. 

Males make a scrape nest beneath a sedge or willow not far from water.  Both sexes then line the nest with bits of vegetation and both parents care for the nestlings.  A successful pair will raise one brood per breeding season and while nesting will aggressively defend their territory from predators.  During migration and on winter grounds, Black Turnstones gather in social flocks and are often found with Surfbirds, Sanderlings, Wandering Tattlers and Rock Sandpipers. 

Learn more:  Photo credit:  Black Turnstone by Nick Athanas/Macaulay Library.


Skagit Audubon

Read The Skagit Flyer, Our Newsletter

Get Membership Information

Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center (Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.

The board of directors meets at the same location at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, except for the months of July and August.

Featured Bird