RuffCalidris pugnax

adult male, breeding (dark)
David Tipling/VIREO
adult female, breeding
R. J. Chandler/VIREO
adult male, nonbreeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult male, breeding (intermediate)
John Cancalosi/VIREO
adult male, breeding (light)
David Tipling/VIREO
juvenile
Hanne & Jens Eriksen/VIREO

Family

Description

Of the various Eurasian shorebirds that stray into North America, this one is the most regular and widespread in its occurrence. Ruffs are best known for their bizarre courtship plumage and rituals. In spring, male Ruffs are wildly variable in color and pattern of their neck ruffs and head tufts; they gather on display grounds, or "leks," and display to attract females. Rudimentary displays are occasionally seen from spring migrant Ruffs in North America.

Habitat

Grassy marshes, mudflats, flooded fields. Migrants in North America often are seen on marshes or ponds a short distance inland; on the coast, they favor estuaries, lagoons, mudflats at inlets, salt marshes. Generally not on open sandy beaches.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and other invertebrates, also seeds. Diet in North America not well known. In Eurasia, eats many insects, especially flies, beetles, caddisflies. Also eats small mollusks, crustaceans, spiders, worms, small fish, frogs. During migration and winter may eat many seeds, sometimes forming major part of diet.

Feeding Behavior

Forages while walking or wading, by picking up items from surface or probing in water or mud. Sometimes forages actively, running about on open mudflats. May feed by day or night.

Nesting

Has nested once in Alaska, but information here applies to Eurasian birds. Males gather in spring on "leks" and display to attract females. In display, male raises head tufts and neck ruff, flutters wings, may leap in air; many other elaborate postures including bowing, crouching with feathers fluffed up, standing tall. Usually silent during display. Males often fight. Female visits lek, mates with one of the males; male takes no part in caring for eggs or young. Nest site is on ground, well hidden in grass or marsh. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression lined with grasses. Eggs: 4, sometimes 2-3. Olive to green, blotched with brown. Incubation is by female only, 20-23 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female feeds young at first, but they learn to feed themselves after a few days. Age at first flight about 25-28 days.

Eggs

4, sometimes 2-3. Olive to green, blotched with brown. Incubation is by female only, 20-23 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female feeds young at first, but they learn to feed themselves after a few days. Age at first flight about 25-28 days.

Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female feeds young at first, but they learn to feed themselves after a few days. Age at first flight about 25-28 days.

Conservation

Has decreased in some parts of European range because of loss of wetland habitat.

Range

In North America, a regular stray near both coasts, less frequent in the interior. Found somewhat more often in fall than in spring.

Listen

foraging calls

Similar Species

adult

Upland Sandpiper

The ghostly, breathy whistle of the Upland Sandpiper is one of the characteristic sounds of spring on the northern Great Plains. The bird sings sometimes from the tops of fenceposts or poles, but often on the wing, flying high with shallow, fluttering wingbeats. When it lands, it may be hard to see in the tall grass of its typical habitat. Because of its short bill and round-headed shape, was once called "Upland Plover," but it is a true sandpiper, and apparently a close relative of the curlews.

adult, breeding

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

This Asian shorebird is related to our Pectoral Sandpiper, and like that species is it a long-distance migrant, traveling from Siberia to Australia and New Zealand. A few reach North America every year, mostly fall migrants in Alaska and the Pacific northwest; a casual stray in other areas, rare in spring.

adult, breeding

Pectoral Sandpiper

This is one of the "grasspipers," more likely to be seen in grassy marshes or wet fields than on wide-open mudflats. Its spring migration is mostly through the Great Plains, with smaller numbers east to the Atlantic; the species is found coast to coast in fall, but is still scarcer in the west. The name "Pectoral" refers to the inflatable air sac on the male's chest, puffed out during his bizarre hooting flight display over the Arctic tundra.

adult, breeding

Greater Yellowlegs

At ponds and tidal creeks, this trim and elegant wader draws attention to itself by bobbing its head and calling loudly when an observer approaches. In migration, the Greater Yellowlegs is common from coast to coast. Sometimes it may annoy the birder by spooking the other shorebirds with its alarm calls; usually it is a pleasure to watch as it feeds actively in the shallows, running about on trademark yellow legs.

adult male

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

A beautiful but strange little sandpiper, its short bill and round head giving it the look of a plover. On migration it typically stops on prairies, fields of short grass, and even dry plowed fields, seemingly odd settings for a shorebird. Formerly an abundant bird, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper suffered serious declines around the beginning of the 20th century, with many shot during their long migration from the Arctic tundra to the pampas of Argentina.

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