The Ruff is an interesting bird on many fronts. It’s one of the only birds with completely different names for males (Ruff) and females (Reeve), due to the strikingly disparate appearance of the sexes. The significantly larger breeding plumaged males sport elaborate neck plumes (from which their name derives) whereas the females are rather plain brown. The scientific name, Philomachus pugnax is translated as “battle-loving combatant” in reference to the Ruff’s lekking behavior. Lekking, where several males gather at a single site to display together for mating rights, is fairly widespread amongst birds. However, Ruff exhibit some interesting variations; for instance, the male’s display, which includes wing-fluttering (as can be seen in this amazing image), jumping, crouching and lunging, is directed at other males and not at the females. Furthermore, the level of aggression against competing males is intense. This image, taken by master photographer Jari Peltomäki in Finland, shows a displaying male bleeding from an eye injury obtained in battle with a rival. Another fascinating and recently discovered fact is that three forms of males exist. The majority are brown-ruffed territorial males as in this image. White-ruffed “satellite” males are smaller and don’t hold territories but instead move between the leks. However, when they are in attendance at a lek more females are attracted. For this reason the dominant territorial males accept the presence of these satellite males. Finally, a small, cryptic female-plumaged male also exists. He can’t compete with the large dominant males so he “steals” his mating opportunities as females crouch for other males. Full-plumaged males also regularly mount these males (even though they are aware of their sex!), and due to higher rates of copulation at the leks these cryptic males attend, it is believed that more females are thereby attracted.
Ruff breed across northern Europe and Asia, wintering as far south as the southern tip of Africa. The Scandinavian countries of Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway hold the bulk of the European population and Rockjumper’s spring tour visits the prime wildlife sites of all these nations, offering unrivalled opportunities to observe the frenzied action at Ruff leks. We will also be concentrating on northern Europe’s top birds such as White-tailed Eagle, Western Capercaillie and a plethora of owls and woodpeckers, as well as the top mammalian and cultural attractions of this historically rich and scenic region. The tour will be guided by Rockjumper’s star leader David Hoddinott and local experts. You are welcome to contact our office for more details on the final available spaces.