The ruff has a distinctive gravy boat appearance, with a small head, medium-length bill, longish neck and pot-bellied body. It has long legs that are variable in colour but usually yellow or orange. In flight, it has a deeper, slower wing stroke than other waders of a similar size, and displays a thin, indistinct white bar on the wing, and white ovals on the sides of the tail.
This species shows sexual dimorphism. Although a small percentage of males resemble females, the typical male is much larger than the female and has an elaborate breeding plumage. Sizes: 20-32 cm, wingspan – 54-60 cm. Weight: 70-150 g. Longevity: 11 years.
In the May-to-June breeding season, the typical male’s legs, bill and warty bare facial skin are orange, and he has distinctive head tufts and a neck ruff. These ornaments vary on individual birds, being black, chestnut or white, with the colouring solid, barred or irregular.The grey-brown back has a scale-like pattern, often with black or chestnut feathers, and the underparts are white with extensive black on the breast.
Outside the breeding season, the typical male’s head and neck decorations and the bare facial skin are lost and the legs and bill become duller. The upperparts are grey-brown, and the underparts are white with grey mottling on the breast and flanks.
The female, or “reeve”, is 22–26 cm long with a 46–49 cm wingspan and weighs about 110 g . In breeding plumage, she has grey-brown upperparts with white-fringed, dark-centred feathers. The breast and flanks are variably blotched with black. In winter, her plumage is similar to that of the male, but the sexes are distinguishable on size.
The plumage of the juvenile ruff resembles the non-breeding adult, but has upperparts with a neat, scale-like pattern with dark feather centres, and a strong buff tinge to the underparts.
A rather silent bird, but occasionally screaming seriously during the flight, especially the females, when accompanied by young individuals.
Distribution and Habitat
Mid-sized wading birds nesting in swamps and wet meadows all over northern Eurasia. They also highly value the coast of the sea, looking for tidal coastal shores (which are revealed at low tide). This predominantly grouped species is migratory and sometimes forms huge flocks in winter havens that include Southern and Western Europe, Africa, South Asia and Australia. Between mid-June and early July, adult males as well as females without descendants go on autumn migration. Young ones start at the end of July. This migration reaches its peak between late August and early September. After that, it decreases until the end of October, but can be stretched to November. Migration in spring is occurring in Africa from mid-February to late May.
In Bulgaria it is a nesting, passing and wintering species. During migrations he visits wetlands all over the country, mainly on the Black Sea coast.
It is a swampy bird feeding mainly with small invertebrates. During the breeding period, it consumes insects (mainly Diptera /flies/, but also caddis flies, beetles, locusts, etc.), revolving worms, small crustaceans and mollusks. Vegetable materials (seeds, flowers and algae) are also in the diet.
In April and May, the Ruffs return to nesting. Already from the middle of the road back, courtship begins, the males, fight “and that gives the name of the species. They deploy their erectile feathers as a collar and compete with their beaks while jumping or looking defiantly. Polygamous, to attract the females, they inflate their belts of feathers and cut their pendants.
Female individuals are very sociable and often mix with other waders, while males tend to stay away. The female birds squeeze nests themselves and raise their own ones. In May or June, they lay their eggs, usually 4. The female bird hatches them for 20 to 23 days alone, then takes care of the chickens. They take off between the 25th and the 28th day.
In Bulgaria it is protected by the BDA.