The Black Turnstone

by Hadley Rutherford

Scientific name: Arenaria melanocephala.

Size range: 8.7-9.8 inches in length and 3.5-6 ounces.

Identifying features: Black Turnstones are small birds with white undersides and blackish brown backs. Breeding adults have a white spot next to their bills and a white speckling on their breast. Non-breeding adults are similar but with less white. Juveniles are the same except they are lighter and more brown in colour.

Habitat: Black turnstones are located along the western coast of North America. They inhabit rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and piers.

Prey: Black turnstones flip over stones, shells, and seaweed to capture food such as barnacles, limpets, fish eggs, and flies. During breeding season in Alaska they eat seeds, insects, and berries.

Predators: Their predators include jaegers, gulls, sandhill cranes, and arctic foxes. 

Life cycle: Black Turnstones exclusively reproduce in Alaska. Mating season takes place from May-June,  and they return to the same place every year. They produce loud calls to find a mating partner. On breeding grounds the pairs nest close together and perform fancy flight displays. They become very aggressive and will fly up to 100 yards from their territory to pursue possible predators. 

Fun facts

  • Black turnstones use high pitched rattling calls, loud, screeching alarm calls and soft  purr-like calls for communication.
  • Lifespan is 4-8 years in the wild.  
  • They mate for life. 

Photos by Hadley Rutherford


Black Turnstone Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from 

Bouglouan, N. Black turnstones. Retrieved from

Black Turnstone. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from 

Black Turnstone – Arenaria melanocephala: Wildlife Journal Junior – Wildlife Journal Junior. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from 

Black Turnstone. (2020, April 14). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from 

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