Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

It is an uncommon locally relatively common bird, breeding it wet grassy meadows and bogs. Migrant populations can occur nearly in all wetland areas, such as coastal mudflats, reservoirs, and fields. Males have distinct neck ruffs while non-breeding birds have highly variable plumage. Its flight is sluggish, accompanied by deep flabby wingbeats. The species feed by prodding and picking prey, often in shallower waters.

Read further to know more about the Ruff.

What is a Ruff?

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) is a medium-sized wader belonging to the Scolopacidae family. It breeds in wet meadows and marshes in northern Eurasia. As a migrant and gregarious bird, it forms huge flocks in its winter range, which includes southern Asia, Australis, southern and western Europe, and Africa.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Scolopacidae

Genus: Calidris

Species: C. pugnax

Ruff Physical Description

Rumps are fat-bellied wading birds of varying size, possessing a quite long neck and a small head with a short, dark, slightly downward-curved bill. Males, regarded as ruffs, are larger than females, which are called reeves. Ruff can grow 11-13 inches long or 29-32 centimeters, weigh about 180 grams, and boast a 21 to 24 inches or 54–60 centimeters wingspan. Reeves reaches length 8.7 to 10.2 inches long, a weight of around 100 grams, and a wingspan of about 18 to 19 inches or 46–49 centimeters.

Both sexes appear similar on their non-breeding plumage. While breeding plumage shows a black-streaked lower back and tail, and a whitish undertail. However, the most distinct features are the head and collar tufts of males, which may vary from purple, black, chestnut, buff, or white.

Meanwhile, females have similar non-breeding and breeding plumage, with the latter having some mottling on the back and the presence of duller edges on feathers while adding more color on the throat. The leg colors vary from red to yellow, green, brown, and gray for both sexes.

Where can they be spotted?

Ruffs breed in northern Europe and Siberia and move to southern Europe and Africa in the winter. Few populations migrate to southern Asia and Australia. They thrive in open, wetland habitats, such as coastal ponds, estuaries, mudflats, and lagoons. Often, they can also be seen on marshy meadows, lake edges, and sewage farms.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Ruff

Ruffs feed primarily on insects, such as beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and caddisflies. Other food items it may consume are spiders, crustaceans, worms, small fish, frogs, seeds, sedges, cereals, rice and aquatic plants. These birds forage by steady walking and pecking any preferred food item in sight. Occasionally, they will wade and submerge their heads on in the water. It is believed that they also use their auditory sense to locate their prey.

In freshwater bodies, the species can be seen wallowing up to their bellies, but in saline water, they are often observed remaining above the shoreline. They are often solitary or occur in pairs, and be spotted along with other wading birds.

During courtship, males aggregate in focused areas regarded as leks for display and attracting the females. The female will then go to the lek and choose a male and mate in the lek site. The female will build her nest about 400 meters from the lek site. It is placed on the ground lined with grass. She will lay four eggs, which she will also incubate solely for 20-23 days as the male will not provide any parental care. The females will feed the broods, which will learn to fly in about another 25 to 28 days.

Ruffs are covered by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). The species does not face or reach the thresholds for population decrease criterion, and they are listed as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List.



Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve



Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Peninsula National Park

Hluhluwe Game Reserves

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Knysna Lagoon

Kruger National Park

Madikwe Game Reserve

St Lucia Wetlands


Caprivi Region


Etosha National Park

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Skeleton Coast



Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park




Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls