Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham

Those of you who have been on holiday in the UK may have noticed a rather small wading bird around harbours and other seafronts.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 11:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 1:17 pm
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

Quite pretty, this little bird is the ‘turnstone’ and so-called because it forages along rocky shorelines in search of tiny invertebrates to eat. In doing this, it supposedly ‘turns stones’ over. However, in recent years it seems that the turnstone has found an easier way to live and that is as a scavenger around holiday resorts where Cornish pasties and discarded fish-and-chip wrappings offer tasty tit-bits. I have seen these little scavengers running around close to holiday-makers but often unseen and unnoticed. I watched one at St Ives in Cornwall recently and it had an injured right leg but was making a good go of hopping on just the left one. It seemed in good health and was jostling with pigeons and house sparrows for whatever morsels came its way. All-in-all, the birds do a good job of hoovering up much of the mess that we would otherwise leave around the places we visit. Furthermore, they soon learn to adapt to a new way of life as small birds do around outdoor cafés or picnic sites where chaffinches, robins and house sparrows learn to scavenge around the human diners.

From our point of view this behaviour does provide us with good chances to view these birds close up; which is nice.

There may be dietary issues for the birds involved but hopefully they search out their food more naturally for most of the year. The turnstone is common along British coasts on migration and throughout the winter. They don’t actually breed with us but much further north in the Arctic tundra.

Turnstone by Ian Rotherham.

Birds from Northern Europe pass through Britain on migration in July and August and then again in spring. However, we also have Canadian and Greenland birds arriving in August and September, and then staying in Britain until April or May. There are also non-breeding birds that stay throughout the summer. There’s more to this sandpiper than you might think! Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.