WHERE TO WATCH?
subordinate. It is the way of the world. In the case of Turnstones, the hierarchies work themselves out in various ways. Dominant individuals, in fact, are the least sociable, foraging in the smallest groups. Most other Turnstones would appear to avoid them, as they do their own thing. These top dogs will, however, resort to what scientists call ‘kleptoparasitism’, which is basically just stealing. When another Turnstone has located an excellent source of food, they move in and bag it themselves. These birds have small home ranges, being kings of their own small circle. However, another, more intriguing outworking of hierarchies is that Turnstones show very strong individual feeding quirks. You might think that Turnstones only turn stones, but in fact they have six distinct feeding A trip to the coast is in order if you want to see a Turnstone. They like rocky shores, as well as sandy and muddy ones. See them on rocks covered with seaweed, also along seawalls and jetties. They’re present for most of the year – Canadian and Greenland birds can be seen here from August to May, those from Northern Europe pass through in July and August and again spring and nonbreeding birds could stay throughout the summer.
methods, of which stone-turning is only one. The others are surface pecking, probing the bill into a fissure or substrate, digging, ‘hammer-probing’ – which is probing with vigorous pecks, for example in trying to open the carapace of limpets and other shells – and, finally, routing. The last-named is the technique of moving seaweed aside to see what is underneath; the birds often do this by leaning down and bulldozing the seaweed away, as if they were in a rugby scrum. Routing, it seems, is the most productive of all the Turnstone’s feeding techniques, and where the habitat allows the technique, individuals compete for the right to do it. In observations of directly compared duos of birds, where the two options were routing or probing, dominant individuals routed more than low status birds, suggesting that their social status affected their feeding methods. Interestingly, when stone-turning is compared to probing, there was a significant difference between the sexes. Females turn stones over more often than males do, which tend to probe instead. In most bird hierarchies (although not always in waders), males are dominant over females in winter flocks. This could mean that, despite the fact that we associate this bird so much with its distinctive habit of heaving stones aside to examine what is beneath them, this technique is actually one of the less profitable ones? In which case, perhaps we are calling this bird by the wrong name? The next time you see one of these birds on a rocky shore, perhaps you should say: “there is a flock of seaweed-routers?” Catchy – probably not.