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Ruff (Calidris pugnax) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

[order] Charadriiformes | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Philomachus pugnax | [UK] Ruff | [FR] Combattant varié | [DE] Kampfläufer | [ES] Combatiente | [IT] Combattente | [NL] Kemphaan



spanwidth min.: 54 cm

spanwidth max.: 60 cm

size min.: 29 cm

size max.: 32 cm


incubation min.: 20 days

incubation max.: 23 days

fledging min.: 25 days

fledging max.: 28 days

broods 1

eggs min.: 2

eggs max.: 4


Physical characteristics


Male Ruffs are highly distinctive in breeding plumage, although that is not generally the plumage that we see when this Eurasian shorebird visits Washington. The adult male varies in color from dark rufous to light brown with considerable white. It has a thick mane of long feathers around its neck and thick head-feathers that can be puffed out. The female, called a Reeve, is mottled brown-and-buff with orange legs (sometimes olive or green). Females and males in non-breeding plumage appear similar, and both have orange bills with white feathers at the bases. The female is about the size of a dowitcher, and the male is similar in size to a Greater Yellowlegs. The juvenile, the form most likely to be seen in Washington, has lighter, more yellow legs than adults. Its breast is clear buff, and its belly grades from buff to white. The head is buff and mostly unstreaked, and the back is black edged with buff. In flight, the Ruff shows a white 'U' on its tail, separating a dark rump and dark tail-tip.

In fresh water, Ruffs are often seen wading up to their bellies, but in salt water they usually stay above the shoreline, in habitat similar to that used by Pectoral Sandpipers. They walk or run at a steady pace, with their heads up, picking food from the substrate. They also sometimes probe in the mud and walk slowly through vegetation with their heads down.




Ruffs breed in sub-Arctic and Arctic tundra meadows in northern Europe and Siberia. They winter primarily in similar open, wetland habitats in southern Europe and Africa, and to a lesser degree in southern Asia and Australia. During migration, they can be found in these habitats as well as coastal ponds, lagoons, estuaries, and mudflats. These coastal wetlands are the Washington habitats where Ruffs are most likely to be spotted.


Other details


This wader is breeding nearly throughout Eurasia, from the British Isles to Kamchatka, reaching 60°N. Northern birds inhabit tundra and swampy clearings of forested regions. Birds of the south-west, e.g. the Netherlands, inhabit wet grasslands. Most of the populations winter in sub-Saharan Africa. This species doesn't live in pairs, and during the breeding period the males gather in arenas. A census of these males doesn't necessarily indicate the number of breeding females. Males and females also migrate separately, at different times and following different routes as well. Populations of this species are consequently difficult to estimate. The term "breeding pairs" is used only for convenience and uniformity. The population of the European Union (12 Member States) is estimated at 2000-3000 pairs, which represents only a very small fraction of the global European population estimated at 3.28 millions of pairs. However large, this population is declining following wetland reclamation and intensification of agriculture




Ruffs eat a typical shorebird diet of insects and other invertebrates. During migration and winter, they may also eat seeds.




This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 2,000,000 individuals1. There is evidence to suggest that the European population (200,000-510,000 pairs, occupying 50-74% of the global breeding range) has declined by up to 30% over ten years (three generations)2, but this may reflect shifts in breeding populations3, populations in Asia are not thought to be declining4,5 and wintering populations in Africa appear to be increasing6. The species is therefore not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]




Male Ruffs gather into groups in concentrated areas called leks, to display and attract females. The female comes to a lek and chooses a male. The female mates with a male and then leaves the lek. As is typical in this type of mating, the male provides no parental care. The female builds her nest on the ground, hidden in grass or marsh vegetation. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grass. She lays four eggs and incubates them for 20 to 23 days. The female feeds the newly hatched young, which is unusual for this group. The young first begin to fly at 25 to 28 days.




Migratory. Though total winter range extends from western Europe and West Africa eastwards to India (and rarely further east), by far the largest numbers winter in Africa and these include even birds from north-east Siberia (those reaching South Africa having travelled 15 000 km). Having no share in nest or chick care, males disperse late June to early July; females and juveniles begin migrating in July. Main movements across temperate Europe from end July to mid-September, though exodus on reduced scale continues to mid-November. First males reach Sénégal mid-July; trans-Saharan passage noted central Chad from 20 August, with peak in 2nd week September. In Africa and southern Europe, return movement begins mid-February, with main exodus March and first half April; obscured, however, by large numbers of non-breeders which summer in winter quarters (even south of Equator). Breeding areas reoccupied from mid-April around North Sea, but progressively later to north and east-mid-June (even later in cold springs) in Siberia.

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Taken on February 19, 2017