2017 – 9 Black Turnstones

They’re back! From a summer making babies on the wet tundra lands of coastal Alaska and Canada, I spotted a group of black turnstones on the dark rocks of our marina breakwater. Perfectly camouflaged against the Mats Mats quarry rock, I didn’t see any of them until one moved. Then I realized there were more, many more and possibly one hundred little birds all quietly chattering away at something important. It’s smart coloration. Being black with white stomachs makes it difficult for a hawk to spot a small dark bird from above, or a white bird from below while flying. Orange-brown legs are about all the color they get. Once you see the group, watch them slowly move over rocks and beach drift as they forage by prying off prey with their strong bills – ‘turnstone’ means just that.


This winter, these birds will forage throughout the Salish Sea and rocky shores of the outer coast until spring when they once again head north to wilderness to make another family. Turnstones return to the same nest and pair with the same mate year after year for as long as they can. Both parents share nesting duties but the female leaves after her eggs hatch while the male cares for the kids until they’re independent. This means ‘the wife’ somehow finds her man again in a population of about 80,000 turnstones scattered across many thousands of miles! And here I can’t see them when they’re right below my feet at the marina jetty!

Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.

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