Akekeke: The Ruddy Turnstone

20 February 2006 - 10:00am

Akekeke (Ruddy Turnstone) feeding on Sanibel Island at

Birds and Plants of Kauai:
by Linda Pascatore on 20 February 2006

The Akekeke or Ruddy Turnstone, is an indigenous bird found in the winter months on rocky beaches of Hawaii and other tropical Pacific coasts. They are called Turnstones because they turn stones over with their beaks to find and eat the small insects and crustaceans underneath. They occasionally will also eat small fish, carrion, and other bird’s eggs. They nest and summer over in the Arctic tundra, from April until August, although a few have been seen to summer over in Hawaii.

The ‘Akekeke, or Arenaria interpres, is about 9 inches song, and has red legs and a black bill which is slightly upturned at the tip. During the winter months, they have brown backs, white below, and a black bib on the neck. In flight, you will see a black and white pattern on wings, back and rump.
Flock of Akekeke taking wing by Harvey Perkins at

During the summer months, their breeding plumage is more of a reddish brown and the black color is deeper. The Turnstone calls in a fast, guttural slurred whistle, and the Hawaiian name ‘akekeke is an imitation of its call. They nest in mud flats in the Arctic Circle. The Turnstone first builds a “dummy nest”, then later scrape out a hollow in the ground lined with grass and lichen. Their eggs are greenish speckled with brown, and are usually found four to a nest. They hatch after 20 days, and it takes another 20 days before the hatchlings can fly.

They are found on rocky, rather than sandy, beaches, and also in mud flats and flooded pastures and grasslands. A flock can sometimes be seen at Salt Pond Beach Park in Hanapepe, on the West Side of Kauai. They fly quickly, and often a flock will rise and turn in unison.
Akekeke atNine Springs, Wisconsin © Michael McDowell at

In Hawaiian mythology the ‘Akekeke is a messenger of the gods sent across the ocean to carry missives to other islands. In one legend, the bird was sent to warn and protect Princess Paliuli, when Prince Aiwahi tried to destroy her.

For more on Hawaiian Nature see below:
Island Breath: Hawaiian Nature Menu
The Flora and Fauna of Hawaii
16 January 2006 - 12:00pm

Nui: The Coconut Tree This valuable plant was used for food, drink, thatching material, and fiber
5 March 2006 - 8:00pm

The Hala Tree: Screw Pine Hawaiians used hala leaves for weaving lauhala mats, baskets, canoe sails


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