Turnstone Arenaria interpres

The turnstone is a stocky, powerfully built wader with a pointed wedge-shaped grey-black bill and short, bright orange legs. They are unmistakeable in their breeding plumage: white chest, black neck feathers and chestnut and orange wing feathers. They also have a distinctive black and white head. When in flight, turnstones show a white steak down the centre of the back, broad white wing-bars, and a white patch at the base of the tail. The turnstone’s winter plumage is mottled grey and brown, with white underparts.


Turnstones flit around rocky shores and gravelly beaches. They are easily recognisable by their unique way of feeding: legs bent and head lowered, poking between stones and seaweed, turning them over to expose sand-hoppers and other small creatures such as insects, larvae, maggots and worms. This is how they earned the name ‘turnstone’. They are frequently seen together with other waders, such as ringed plovers.


  • Length 21-24cm
  • Wingspan 43-56cm
  • Weight: 85-150g
  • Average Lifespan: 9 years


Classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (2015 update). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


Highest densities of wintering turnstones can be found along rocky coastlines of east mainland Scotland, but are also present in varying densities along other Scottish coastlines.

When to see

All year round.


  • Turnstones do not generally breed in the UK. It is possible, however, that amongst small numbers remaining in the summer, breeding may have occurred. The UK population generally breeds in Canada or Greenland.
  • Arenaria interpres translates to mean ‘sand dwelling treasure hunter’.

Common name


Species name

Arenaria interpres

IUCN Red List status

Least concern

When to see in Scotland

All year round.

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Montrose Basin and Loch Fleet.

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