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Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala


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Black Turnstone,bBreeding-plumaged adult in Alaska.
credit: Len Blumin/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Scolopacidae, Sandpipers view all from this family

Description ADULT In winter, has dark blackish brown upperparts with clear horizontal demarcation from white underparts; median coverts are long and black, overhanging white greater coverts and wing edge. Breeding adult acquires white lores, supercilium and small white spots on dark upperparts. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but with paler legs and shorter median coverts.

Dimensions Length: 9" (23 cm)

Habitat Very locally common with a limited coastal breeding range in western Alaska. Winters along Pacific rocky coasts.

Observation Tips Usually easy to find on rocky breakwaters in winter.

Range Northwest, Western Canada, California, Rocky Mountains, Alaska

Voice Utters a rattling urkt-ut-ut call in flight.

Discussion Structurally similar to Ruddy Turnstone, but separable by plumage details when feeding. In flight, striking black and white wing pattern is similar to Ruddy's, creating potential for confusion, especially in poor light. All birds have narrow triangular bill. In winter, often associates with Surfbird, with which it can be confused. Note that species' stubby (not pointed bill), yellowish (not dull reddish brown) legs, and streaked white underparts (clean white in Black Turnstone). Sexes are similar.