Blog Post: Ruff, but Ready – By Martin Campbell

Marshside: an extraordinary place for an extraordinary bird Starting with a nice shot of an ordinary looking wader. What evidence is there in this photo for what this bird is likely to become? Which of the birds shown here is it likely to be? The answer is in your own hands… And how can Ruffs be separated from other waders, for example the Redshank or Black-tailed Godwit? Compare the back pattern on this Ruff (left and the Redshank (right). The Ruff has a “scalloped” pattern, with each back feather rimmed with pale buff. This is a feature which will be noticeable with all of the Ruffs shown here. The photograph below shows a Ruff (front) framed by the much larger and longer beaked Black-tailed Godwit. Again, you can see the “scalloped” pattern on the Ruff’s back. As spring unfolds, so these birds slowly change to become their destiny. There are three recognised forms of the males, which seems to show their status in Ruff society. Firstly, there are the light-coloured males, who are subordinate to the darker ones. The lighter males seem to be on the edge of the display lek I have sorted (and names) these males loosely in order from light to dark, though as you will see, every male is different and there is an extraordinary range of colour and pattern among these birds. Snowdrop , with very light, white colouring on his head and breast: Goldilocks , with his golden highlights Whitefront , with pure white on his breast, contrasting with his ginger head Harold , wearing his smart waistcoat of grey, with white around his beak Pie Squared , with his pied pattern in squares on his back; a reference to maths and the film/book “Life of Pi”. Gingernut , with his incredible glossy ginger/orange head and neck; possibly the most stand-out bird of all! Gingerbiscuit , with deep ginger-brown patterns on his back and head Blackjack , with dark colours, though a blonde head and neck; definitely a Spade in playing cards! Another stand-out bird. Back Beauty , mostly black And now we find that Marshside, at least this year, has Ruffs using a space alongside a main road as a ‘lekking’ (display) area. The dark males take the lead and are the most aggressive. I have been reminded that the ‘lek’ is more about the males finding out who are the biggest bullies than who can impress the females the most. There are also males who look like females. They sneak in while the others are showing off and mate with females while the bullies aren’t looking! It seems that the females have little say in terms of mating… Orangejuice , very black, with bright orange ruff, shown here displaying, or at least practicing his moves for the lek. He’s a dark male, though with a bright orange ruff and therefore likely to be one of the dominant males. So what happens next? It seems that the Ruffs have now disappeared from their lekking area. Given that the Reeves have possibly mated, then hopefully they must be nesting somewhere in the UK or hidden nearby. The Ribble Estuary has been recorded as a breeding area for Ruffs since records began in the 17 th century, but this species has struggled in the UK with few active breeding sites recorded. Let’s keep fingers crossed that they are nesting nearby and that their efforts will be successful.