A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)

Ruddy Turnstone, Porto Bodega, Bodega Bay, September 25, 2012


Ruddy Turnstones are fairly common in Sonoma County in the winter months at the coast. Probably best seen at Bodega Bay, especially at Porto Bodega, where they hang out on the palings along with Black Turnstones, Willets, Whimbrels, and other shorebirds. Ruddy Turnstones begin to arrive in the county as early as mid-July, often still in breeding plumage. Numbers increase into October, by which time the winter population is established. Most stay through early May of the following year. The largest numbers are present between late October and the end of April. May be solitary, but often seen in small flocks. Favors rocky shorelines, tide pools, jetties, breakwaters, and piers. Sometimes associates with Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala) and other shorebirds.  

Although some birds may arrive in breeding plumage, we normally see Ruddy Turnstones in winter, or non-breeding plumage. Birds in breeding plumage are a rich rufous and black on the back with a stark and distinctive black and white face pattern. The bird in the photograph above appears to be in mid-molt. It has lost most of the face pattern but retains quite a lot of rufous on its back. Both Ruddy Turnstone and Black Turnstone are unusual in that their very long median coverts tend to hang down like a fringe over the edge of the folded wing (especially apparent in Black Turnstone). That, the short, sharp bill, and the bright orange legs identify this bird even in its drabber winter colors (below). The bird in the photo below may be a first year bird as the median coverts are smaller and hang down less than in a typical adult and they retain buff and white fringes, which wear away with time.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 54

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 225

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 176

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 188

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 142

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 152

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 165

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 180

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 64-67 (general notes on shorebird ID)

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID)

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, pp. 10, 32, 33, 38, 123-127, 129, 136, 142, 175, 282, 317, 392-393

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 30

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 193-197

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 150

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 140

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 142

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 161

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 149

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Ruddy Turnstone



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Ruddy Turnstone, winter plumage, Porto Bodega, Bodega Bay, January 7, 2012

For comparison: Black Turnstone (non-breeding plumage). Campbell Cove, Bodega Bay, September 8, 2010. Note the fringe of long median coverts over wing-edge, a trait shared by Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Arenaria interpres

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated August 24, 2013

EBird-reported occurrence in Sonoma County