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