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Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone, Vancouver Island, BC
Black Turnstone, Vancouver Island, BC, Copyright By Sean McCann

Among North American shorebirds, the Black Turnstone is a common sight on the Pacific coast. The pattern of its plumage makes it quite invisible while foraging on the rocky shores or when flying above the rough seas. Its name refers to its ability to flip over objects to get at foods like algae, hard-shelled invertebrates, and other crustaceans below. When feeding, it uses its specialized bill for prying loose mussels and barnacles.

The black turnstone is strictly a bird of western North America and is seldom found away from the coast’s marine environment. It breeds in a narrow band along the coast of western Alaska.

These birds appear to be the self-appointed sentinel of its nesting community. It shrieks warnings of predators and relentlessly pursues them, occasionally making contact and even pulling out feathers or fur.

The Black Turnstone returns to the same nest and pairs with the same mate year after year. They nest on the ground, among grasses close to water. The nest is sometimes out in the open, sometimes hidden by tall vegetation. The nest is a shallow bowl scraped in the ground and lined with grass. Both parents take turns incubating the four eggs for about 23 days. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and find their own food. Both parents tend the young, but the female leaves about two weeks after they hatch, but the male cares for the young until they are independent. They begin to make short flights at 23 days and have mastered sustained flight by 28-30 days.

The species leaves its breeding grounds in early summer and heads to its non-breeding areas that cover the entire Pacific Northwest Coast. During low tide, this bird’s presence in these cryptic habitats is often betrayed only by its raucous, scolding vocalizations as they blend into the beach so well. Beginning in April they are again on the move north to their nesting grounds.

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