The Migratory Ruff: Having A Rough Time


Ruff is a migratory bird that comes to India from the colder parts of Europe and Asia to spend its winter.


Winter appearance – this is how they look.


Much is written about this bird acquiring a multi-colored frilly collar similar to a lion’s mane and head gear in summer. There is striking difference between the boy called ruff and the girl called reeve but thats only in the summer. We in India don’t get to see that difference.


Changing plumage…


But its winter clothes are very different, appearing brown from a distance. Just before they leave, the feathers on the back start to have dark centers with some rufous here and there, outlined with white. In some birds, the neck starts to turn white, while in others, it appears barred. I noticed one bird whose nape was starting to bulge, perhaps, the famous frilly feathers would sprout from there.


In flight…pure joy to watch…

Watching them in flight is a real treat. It is as of scores of lights are going off and on together as they change their direction all at once. Their bellies are white and hence that illusion.



Favorite habitat…

It inhabits marshy places, ponds, wetlands but best loves moist grassy areas.


Recently, I was going through some of the pictures I had taken earlier. Among those was a picture of distant Ruffs. But this was taken in mid-July and one can see traces of the breeding plumage in some of the birds. Now what were Ruffs doing in India in the month of July???


These one came back very early…can see traces of their breeding plumage.

As they are normally expected to migrate back to their origins towards the end of March, I also searched my image library to find the last pictures taken around that period.  I found I had clicked most of them in the first week of April. I didn’t follow as to when they actually left for their journey home, but a number of questions did come to my mind:

  • Why are these birds having such a short migration of a little over hundred days? In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned that Garganey is one of the earliest to migrate to India towards the end of August.
  • Why are they coming back without their chicks?

If they have come back without their young ones, isn’t this the most alarming situation? Something tells me that their breeding grounds were perhaps disturbed or not safe. In my experience, birds don’t normally abandon their eggs or chicks unless the threat is really grave.


One from the same group that came back early…

Obviously something went terribly wrong in their summering grounds which disturbed the birds. Is it human factor or is it weather?


  • Thanks Aditya for an interesting showcase of the Ruff and really lovely photos also.

  • Beautiful photographs AND you raise some interesting questions. I noticed this year that the swallows and swifts remained here for longer than usual before migrating to northern climes.

    • Thank you for visiting.
      Here as well, some migratory birds overstayed perhaps because the Winter this year lingered beyond normal winter months. Just as you pointed out.

  • Very interesting blog with wonderful photos Aditya. We actually had a few Ruffs…..three males and a female not too far from us this spring. They are a rare bird for this area of Canada but have been showing up more often in the past few years. We do get to see the males in their varied colored plumages as it’s breeding season for them. Not sure if we’ll get any breeding here but I’m sure lots of birders will be watching to see.

    • Great to hear from you again. Thank you for your time.
      Just wondering if the increase in the number of Ruffs in your part of the world is due to the disturbed conditions in Europe that I have mentioned about.
      I have seen pictures of them in their full breeding plumage – really amazing transformation isn’t it?

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