Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Scientific name definitions

David N. Nettleship
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020

Conservation and Management

Not globally threatened (Least Concern).

Effects of Human Activity

Disturbance At Nest And Roost Sites/Habitat Alteration

Welfare of species, as with most Charadrii, threatened by human disturbances in many regions throughout range, including: coastal development that alters and destroys critical feeding and roosting habitats, oil and toxic-chemical pollution, and direct interference from human recreational practices. (For details, see Connors et al. 1979, Isleib 1979, Morrison and Harrington 1979, Morrison 1984c, Smit and Vasser 1993, Morrison et al. 1994b, Page and Gill 1994, Goss-Custard et al. 1995 ).

Breeding Grounds. Northern breeding distribution in arctic America widespread in relatively remote and inaccessible locations; currently not threatened by industrial developments or activities of northern peoples. Impact of researchers on local populations possible; species particularly susceptible to disturbance by human intruders during incubation (i.e., interruption of brooding bouts and increase in exposure of eggs to aerial and ground predators) and chick-rearing period (reduction in rate of family movements and increase in chick mortality). Trapping adults on nest can cause desertion; also prone to severe “capture stress” by handling and confinement for even short time periods (Ens et al. 1990).

Staging Sites During Migration; Winter Quarters. Populations principally threatened by loss and/or alteration of coastal habitats critical to the birds for self-maintenance during winter and accumulation of fat reserves necessary to undertake long-distance movements between winter and summer breeding grounds, including postarrival survival in spring at high-arctic breeding locations. Direct loss of wintering habitats known to be occurring in Britain and nw. Europe, where most of North American interpres population winter (Furness 1973, Morrison 1977b, Branson et al. Branson et al. 1979, Goss-Custard 1979, Millard and Evans 1984, Mitchell et al. 1988, Morrison and Davidson 1990, Evans 1991, Evans et al. 1991). Winter habitats for morinella in South America under less direct coastal development and human disturbance, but heavy use of pesticides and toxic chemicals and drainage of agricultural chemicals into coastal estuaries and wetlands (e.g., Brazil, Suriname, Argentina) pose a threat to the birds and their food resources (Morrison 1984c, Morrison and Ross 1989a, Morrison et al. 1994b). North-central coastline of Brazil, east of Amazon between Belém and Sao Luís, particularly important for Ruddy Turnstones and supports about 76% of North American race morinella during winter (Morrison and Ross 1989a).

Considerable developmental pressures have also occurred along traditional coastal migration routes in North America, including critical staging areas with subsequent environmental changes and habitat loss (Senner and Howe 1984; Bildstein et al. 1991; Morrison et al. Morrison et al. 1994b, Morrison et al. 1994a). Of particular concern are those coastal staging sites essential to pre- and postbreeding long-distance migratory movements of 10,000s–100,000s (sometimes >1 million) of shorebirds due to enormous and predictable seasonal abundance of preferred foods. Examples of major sites currently threatened by human activity include: Delaware Bay estuary, New Jersey and Delaware (spring food source: horseshoe crab eggs; disturbance: direct human interference limiting access to crab eggs, overharvesting of adult crabs, other commercial fishery activities, and oil pollution; Burger et al. 1979, Burger 1986, Clark et al. 1993a, Botton et al. 1994, Harrington and Flowers 1996); upper Bay of Fundy (Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay), New Brunswick (late summer food: amphipod crustacean Corophium volutator; disturbance: fisheries activities, Fundy tidal power developments and damming of rivers, and chemical pollution; Hicklin 1987; Wilson Wilson 1990c, Wilson 1991a; Daborn et al. 1993; Percy 1996); Cooper River Delta and e. Prince William Sound, AK (spring food source: Pacific herring eggs Clupea harengus, bivalve mollusk Macoma balthica; disturbance: commercial fishery activities, chronic oil pollution [major oil terminal at nearby Valdez] and large spills [e.g., 1989, Exxon Valdez]; Isleib and Kessel 1973, Isleib 1979, Senner 1979, Kessel 1989, Norton et al. 1990, Burger 1997e). Northern interpres populations (high-arctic ne. Canada and Greenland) also highly dependent during spring migration on a small number of staging areas, particularly in Iceland, where at least 50% of population uses intertidal food resources on rocky and sandy beaches (e.g., mollusk Littorina spp. and Mytilus sp., kelp-fly larvae Coelopidae) before moving northwest to Greenland and high-arctic Canada (Morrison 1977b; Branson et al. 1978; Alerstam et al. Alerstam et al. 1990, Alerstam et al. 1992b; Gudmundsson and Gardarsson 1993), but also elsewhere (e.g., Prys-Jones et al. 1992). Protection of staging areas where critical prey supplies occur for birds is crucial for population maintenance and survival of Ruddy Turnstones and other shorebirds.

Pesticides And Other Contaminant/Toxics

Pesticides and toxic chemicals in South America may pose a potential threat to some shorebirds, but levels of organochlorine compounds and heavy metals in turnstones seem relatively low; more detailed examinations required (Morrison 1984c, Senner and Howe 1984). Levels in some shorebirds on the Wash, Britain, have been known for some time (e.g., Parslow 1973), but impacts, if any, on the birds remain unknown. Offshore petroleum developments, production, and tanker transport remain a major environmental threat throughout species' range, particularly along Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of North America from Beaufort and Chukchi coasts of arctic Alaska and Gulf of Alaska to Baja California and from Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland Grand Banks, Scotian Shelf, and Gulf of Maine south to Gulf of Mexico and n. South America (Vermeer and Anweiler 1975, Connors et al. 1979, Isleib 1979, Senner and Howe 1984, Morrison and Ross 1989a, Burger 1997e).

Human Predation

Some hunting and trapping continue on wintering grounds in South America and Caribbean; practice apparently not widespread and numbers taken uncertain, though may be significant at certain locations (Senner and Howe 1984, Morrison and Ross 1989a).

Global Warming

Unclear what effect global warming may have on populations. Southern limit of breeding range of North American race morinella is low Arctic, whereas its European interpres counterpart extends into relatively temperate boreal habitats (i.e., Gulf of Finland). This suggests morinella may be less tolerant of warmer conditions for breeding than European race. If so, and mean summer temperatures continue to increase, reductions in population size and range may be expected in southern parts of North American breeding range.


Known to be currently threatened from a number of sources at several locations in its wintering range (see Effects of human activity, above), but extent of impact on population undocumented. Threats, direct and indirect, come from industrial and recreational human activity comprising habitat loss and degradation, disturbance, chemical contamination, and hunting (Senner and Howe 1984; Howe et al. 1989; Morrison 1991; Morrison et al. Morrison et al. 1994b, Morrison et al. 1994a). Combined, these assaults place turnstones and other shorebirds at considerable risk of population decline due to rapid loss of critical resources at coastal-stopover locations during migration and winter wetlands. Recent trend analysis of Ruddy Turnstone numbers at 56 U.S. Atlantic coastal-stopover sites during fall migration indicate substantial declines between 1972 and 1983 (mean annual percentage of change -8.5, or -62.4% cumulative change), though not statistically significant due to high variation within and between years (Howe et al. 1989). However, findings suggest more research and management actions needed.

Effective conservation management of Ruddy Turnstone and other Charadrii shorebirds depends on protection of species and their habitats throughout their range. They are protected continentwide by the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1918). More recently (mid-1980s), critical habitats being identified and protected where possible under Wetlands International's Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and much has been accomplished (see Scott and Carbonell 1986a, Myers et al. 1987, Boyd and Pirot Boyd and Pirot 1989, Morrison and Ross 1989a, Morrison et al. 1991b, Harrington and Perry 1995b, Gill et al. 1999c). But still much more needs to be done. Since Ruddy Turnstone is a long-distance migrant (as are most Charadrii shorebirds), not only must its northern breeding and southern wintering grounds be protected, but also each stopover site critical to linking these 2 end points. Requirements for certain species known, but poorly documented for most shorebirds, including Ruddy Turnstone (e.g., Howe et al. 1989, Morrison 1991, Morrison et al. 1994b). This means continued development and expansion of shorebird survey and monitoring schemes are essential to: identify critical staging areas and threats, assess current population status and future trends, detect factors responsible for observed changes in population, and provide methods to protect important areas at both national and international levels. For details, see Boyd and Pirot 1989, Morrison and Ross 1989a, Evans 1991, Evans et al. 1991, Morrison 1991, and Morrison et al. 1994b .

Recommended Citation

Nettleship, D. N. (2020). Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rudtur.01