Ian’s Bird of the Week – Ruff ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 6/19/12
This week we have nothing short of a fashion parade, male Ruffs at a communal display ground or lek in eastern Finland. Finland is my second stop-over on the way to Ireland to visit my family and I am spending a week in the northern part of the country in search of some unusual northern European birds. I spent a couple of nights in Oulo on the west coast, a 1 hour flight north of Helsinki and then drove north west to Kuusamo near the Russian border where I am now.
In Oulu, the birding and wildlife tour company Finnature put me very early in the morning in a hide that they had set up near the lek. I settled down to watch a rather unpromising-looking piece of raised ground in a meadow, having been assured that, though it was late in the season, a couple of birds had been seen at the lek on the previous morning.
After about half an hour and shortly before 4:00am the black-ruffed bird in the second photo arrived but flew off when I moved the camera. Happily, it soon returned and this time the second white-ruffed bird arrived too and the pair started their extraordinary display, spreading their ruffs and wings apparently to make themselves appear as intimidating as possible. Sometimes, they jumped vertically in the air and at other times they crouched low on the ground in submissive looking postures.
Although the birds often came into close physical contact, there was no actual fighting and no physical damage. These black- and white-ruffed birds were the main performers during the 4 hours that I remained in the hide, but other birds joined in and at one stage there were about 10 birds on the lek. The colours of the ruffs and the erectile feathers on the head were varied. Here is a buff and black one with the white bird.
The colour of the bare wattled skin on the face varied too, being sometimes yellow and sometimes red, though it was my impression that this colour wan’t permanent and the red flush was associated with more intense display. This non-displaying one with a chestnut cap, piebald ruff has yellow facial skin.
This one is mainly chestnut.
While this one with an ermine ruff look suitably regal.
Ruffs are unusual among lekking birds in that the display is aimed mainly at other males to establish dominance, rather than at attracting females. Females may mate with multiple males producing young with different fathers and homosexual mating also occurs. The different ruff colours are apparently significant and white-ruffed males are smaller and less dominant and called satellite males.
The females, called Reeves, are quite plain and look rather like other sandpipers such as Sharp-tailed and Pectoral. In non-breeding plumage, the males resemble the females but are larger and longer-necked. Ruffs breed across northern Eurasia from Scandinavia to Siberia and winter in Africa, Asia and, in small numbers, Australia. You can see a female and ruff-less male, photographed in India, here: http://www.birdway.com.au/scolopacidae/ruff/index.htm.
Who said waders are plain and boring? I had a wonderful time at this lek. The Ruffs wasn’t one of my target species in Finland but an unexpected bonus, thank you Finnature. My main target was the largest Woodpecker in Europe, the Black Woodpecker, but that’s another story.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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What a group of “show offs.” I find these birds amazing. Never thought of this family as having leks like the pheasants and those in that order. Just goes to show you that the birds are doing what they are suppose to and that is reproducing. What a show for the females to get to watch.
Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
(Genesis 8:17 NKJV)
The Ruff is in the Scolopacidae – Sandpipers, Snipes Family in the Charadriiformes Order.