Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)


[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Philomachus pugnax | [UK] Ruff | [FR] Combattant varie | [DE] Kampflaufer | [ES] Combatiente | [NL] Kemphaan


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Phalaropus pugnax
Philomachus pugnax EU n AF, sw EU, India

Physical charateristics

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.

Listen to the sound of Ruff


Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 54 cm wingspan 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.: 23 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Eurasia : North


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.


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.

Feeding habits

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


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Ruff status Least Concern


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 Senegal 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.

Distribution map

Ruff distribution range map

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