Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
STREPSILAS INTERPRES, Linn.
PLATE CCCXXIII.--ADULT IN SUMMER AND WINTER.
This bird, which, in its full vernal dress, is one of the most beautiful of
its family, is found along the southern coasts of the United States during
winter, from North Carolina to the mouth of the Sabine river, in considerable
numbers, although perhaps as many travel at that season into Texas and Mexico,
where I observed it on its journey eastward, from the beginning of April to the
end of May, 1837. I procured many specimens in the course of my rambles along
the shores of the Florida Keys, and in the neighbourhood of St. Augustine, and
have met with it in May and June, as well as in September and October, in almost
every part of our maritime shores, from Maine to Maryland. On the coast of
Labrador I looked for it in vain, although Dr. RICHARDSON mentions their arrival
at their breeding quarters on the shores of Hudson's Bay and the Arctic Sea up
to the seventy-fifth parallel.
In spring the Turnstone is rarely met with in flocks exceeding five or six
individuals, but often associates with other species, such as the Knot, the
Red-backed Sandpiper, and the Tringa subarquata. Towards the end of autumn,
however, they collect into large flocks, and so continue during the winter. I
have never seen it on the margins of rivers or lakes, but always on the shores
of the sea, although it prefers those of the extensive inlets so numerous on our
coasts. At times it rambles to considerable distances from the beach, for I
have found it on rocky islands thirty miles from the mainland; and on two
occasions, whilst crossing the Atlantic, I saw several flocks near the Great
Banks flying swiftly, and rather close to the water around the ships, after
which they shot off toward the south-west, and in a few minutes were out of
sight. It seems to be a hardy bird, for some of them remain in our Eastern
Districts until severe frost prevails. Having seen some, in the beginning of
June, and in superb plumage, on the high grounds of the Island of Grand Mannan,
in the Bay of Fundy, I supposed that they bred there, although none of my party
succeeded in discovering their nests. Indeed the young, as I have been
informed, are obtained there, and along the coast of Maine, in the latter part
I have found this bird much more shy when in company with other species
than when in flocks by itself, when it appears to suspect no danger from man.
Many instances of this seeming inattention have occurred to me, among others the
following:--When I was on the island of Galveston in Texas, my friend EDWARD
HARRIS, My son, and some others of our party, had shot four deer, which the
sailors had brought to our little camp near the shore. Feeling myself rather
fatigued, I did not return to the bushes with the rest, who went in search of
more venison for our numerous crew, but proposed, with the assistance of one of
the sailors, to skin the deer. After each animal was stripped of its hide, and
deprived of its head and feet, which were thrown away, the sailor and I took it
to the water and washed it. To my surprise, I observed four Turnstones directly
in our way to the water. They merely ran to a little distance out of our
course, and on our returning, came back immediately to the same place; this they
did four different times, and, after we were done, they remained busily engaged
in searching for food. None of them were more than fifteen or twenty yards
distant, and I was delighted to see the ingenuity with which they turned over
the oyster-shells, clods of mud, and other small bodies left exposed by the
retiring tide. Whenever the object was not too large, the bird bent its legs to
half their length, placed its bill beneath it, and with a sudden quick jerk of
the head pushed it off, when it quickly picked up the food which was thus
exposed to view, and walked deliberately to the next shell to perform the same
operation. In several instances, when the clusters of oyster-shells or clods of
mud were too heavy to be removed in the ordinary way, they would use not only
the bill and head, but also the breast, pushing the object with all their
strength, and reminding me of the labour which I have undergone in turning over
a large turtle. Among the sea-weeds that had been cast on the shore, they used
only the bill, tossing the garbage from side to side, with a dexterity extremely
pleasant to behold. In this manner, I saw these four Turnstones examine almost
every part of the shore along a space of from thirty to forty yards; after which
I drove them away, that our hunters might not kill them on their return.
On another occasion, when in company with Mr. HARRIS, on the same island I
witnessed a similar proceeding, several Turnstones being engaged in searching
for food in precisely the same manner. At other times, and especially when in
the neighbourhood of St. Augustine, in East Florida, I used to amuse myself with
watching these birds on the racoon-oyster banks, using my glass for the purpose.
I observed that they would search for such oysters as had been killed by the
heat of the sun, and pick out their flesh precisely in the manner of our Common
Oyster-catcher, Haematopus palliatus, while they would strike at such small
bivalves as had thin shells, and break them, as I afterwards ascertained by
walking to the spot. While on the Florida coast, near Cape Sable, I shot one in
the month of May, that had its stomach filled with those beautiful shells, which
on account of their resemblance to grains of rice, are commonly named
While this species remains in the United States, although its residence is
protracted to many months, very few individuals are met with in as complete
plumage as the one represented in my plate with the wings fully extended; for
out of a vast number of specimens procured from the beginning of March to the
end of May, or from August to May, I have scarcely found two to correspond
precisely in their markings. For this reason, no doubt exists in my mind that
this species, as well as the Knot and several others, loses its rich summer
plumage soon after the breeding season, when the oldest become scarcely
distinguishable from the young. In the spring months, however, I have observed
that they gradually improve in beauty, and acquire full-coloured feathers in
patches on the upper and lower surfaces of the body, in the same manner as the
Knot, the Red-breasted Snipe, the Godwits, and several other species. According
to Mr. HEWITSON, the eggs are four in number, rather suddenly pointed towards
the smaller end, generally an inch and four and a half eighths in length, an
inch and one and a half eighths in their greatest breadth, their ground-colour
pale yellowish-green, marked with irregular patches and streaks of brownish-red,
and a few lines of black.
My drawing of the Turnstones represented in the plate was made at
Philadelphia, in the end of May 1824; and the beautiful specimen exhibited in
the act of flying, I procured near Camden, while in the agreeable company of my
talented friend LESUEUR who, alas! is now no more.
I have not observed any remarkable difference in the plumage of the sexes
at any season of the year. The males I have generally found to be somewhat
larger than the females, which, as is well known, is not the case in the Tringa
My worthy friend, Dr. BACHMAN, once had a bird of this species alive. It
had recovered from a slight wound in the wing, when he presented it to a lady, a
friend of his and mine, who fed it on boiled rice, and bread soaked in milk, of
both of which it was very fond. It continued in a state of captivity upwards of
a year, but was at last killed by accident. It had become perfectly gentle,
would eat from the hand of its kind mistress, frequently bathed in a basin
placed near it for the purpose, and never attempted to escape, although left
quite at liberty to do so.
TURNSTONE, Tringa Interpres, Wile. Amer. Orn., vol. vii. p. 32.
STREPSILAS INTERPRES, Bonap. Syn., p. 299.
STREPSILAS INTERPRES, Turnstone, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., Vol. ii.p. 371.
TURNSTONE or SEA DOTTEREL, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 30.
TURNSTONE, Strepsilas Interpres, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 31.
Male, 9, 18 3/4.
Not uncommon along the shores of the Southern States during winter, though
the greater number remove much farther south. Breeds in high northern
latitudes, Hudson's Bay, and shores of Arctic Seas. Never in the interior.
Adult Male in summer.
Bill a little shorter than the head, rather stout, compressed, tapering,
straightish, being recurvate in a slight degree. Upper mandible with the dorsal
line very slightly concave, the nasal groove extending to the middle, the sides
beyond it sloping, the tip depressed and blunted. Nostrils sub-basal,
linear-oblong, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle short, the dorsal line
ascending and slightly convex, the sides convex, the edges sharp, the tip
depressed and blunted.
Head small, ovate; eyes of moderate size. Neck of ordinary length. Body
rather full. Feet of moderate length, stout; tibia bare at the lower part, and
covered with reticulated scales; tarsus roundish, with numerous broad anterior
scutella; toes four, the first very small, and placed higher than the rest; the
anterior toes free to the base, distinctly margined on both edges, the inner toe
a little shorter than the outer, the third or middle toe considerably longer;
claws rather small, arcuate, compressed, blunted.
Plumage full, soft, rather dense, and glossy; feathers on the hind neck
blended, and rather narrow, on the other parts ovate. Wings long, pointed, of
moderate breadth; primaries with strong shafts, rather broad, narrowed towards
the end, the first longest, the rest rapidly decreasing; outer secondaries
incurved, obliquely rounded; inner elongated, one of them extending to half an
inch of the tip of the longest primary, when the wing is closed. Tail rather
short, slightly rounded, of twelve moderately broad, rounded feathers.
Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet deep orange-red, claws black. Plumage
variegated with white, black, brown, and red. Upper parts of the head and nape
streaked with black and reddish-white; a broad band of white crosses the
forehead, passes over the eyes, and down the sides of the neck, the hind part of
which is reddish-white, faintly mottled with dusky; a frontal band of black
curves downwards before the eye, enclosing a white patch on the lore, and
meeting another black band glossed with blue, which proceeds down the neck, from
the base of the lower mandible, enlarging behind the ear, covering the whole
anterior part of the neck, and passing along the shoulder over the scapulars;
the throat, hind part of the back, the outer scapulars, upper tail-coverts, and
the under parts of the body and wings, white. Anterior smaller wing-coverts
dusky, the rest bright chestnut or brownish-orange, as are the outer webs of the
inner tertiaries; alula, primary coverts, outer secondary coverts and quills
blackish-brown, their inner webs becoming white towards the base; a broad band
of white extends across the wing, including the bases of the primary quills,
excepting the outer four, and the ends of the secondary coverts; the shafts of
the primaries white. Tail white, with a broad blackish-brown bar towards the
end, broader in the middle, the tips white. A dusky band crosses the rump.
Length to end of tail 9 inches, to end of wings 8 3/8, to end of claws 10;
extent of wings 18 3/8; along the ridge (9 1/2)/12, along the edge of lower
mandible 11/12; wing from flexure 6 1/12; tail 2 4/12; tarsus 11/12; hind toe
(2 1/2)/12, its claw 2/12; middle toe 10/12, its claw (3 1/2)/12. Average
weight of three specimens 3 2/3 oz.
Male in winter.
In winter, the throat, lower parts, middle of the back, upper tail-coverts,
and band across the wing, are white, as in summer; the tail and quills are also
similarly coloured, but the inner secondaries are destitute of red, of which
there are no traces on the upper parts, they being of a dark greyish-brown
colour, the feathers tipped or margined with paler; the outer edges of the outer
scapulars, and some of the smaller wing-coverts, white; on the sides and fore
part of the neck the feathers blackish, with white shafts.
Individuals vary much according to age and sex, as well in size as in
colour, scarcely two in summer plumage being found exactly similar.
In a male bird, the tongue is (6 1/2)/12 of an inch in length, sagittate
and papillate at the base, concave above, narrow, and tapering to the point.
The oesophagus is 4 1/4 inches long, inclines to the right, is rather narrow,
and uniform, its diameter (4 1/2)/12. Proventriculus oblong, 8/12 in length,
5/12 in breadth, its glandules cylindrical. Stomach oblong, 11/12 in length,
its cuticular lining very tough and hard, with broad longitudinal rugae, its
lateral muscles moderately large. Intestine 17 1/2 inches long, slender,
varying in diameter from (2 1/2)/12 to (1 1/2)/12; rectum 1 1/2; coeca 1 8/12,
11/12 in diameter at the commencement, 2/12 toward the end; cloaca globular.
The trachea is 3 1/4 inches long, 2 (1/2)/12 in breadth, contracts to 1/12;
its lateral muscles very thin; sterno-tracheal slender, a pair of
tracheali-bronchial muscles. The rings are very thin and unossified, 104 in
number. Bronchi of moderate length, with about 15 half rings.
In a female, the oesophagus is 4 1/4 inches long, the intestine 18. In
both individuals the stomach contained fragments of shells, and claws of very
small crabs, which were also found in the intestine, although there more