Feeling Ruff

There’s a wader at RSPB Lodmoor. Obviously I don’t know which species it is; it’s a wader. How would I know?

A nearby birder says, “Have you seen the odd Ruff?”

Leucistic Knott - Lodmoor - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

What’s disconcerting about wading birds is that their plumage differs so markedly between breeding and winter plumage, with gradations in between, and sometimes big differences between male and female. That means four very different looking birds could be the same species. Four. That’s ridiculous.

I check out the information on the Ruff:

“The male is much larger than the female (the reeve)”

Okay, they don’t just have different plumage, they have different names as well.

“and has a breeding plumage that includes brightly coloured head tufts, bare orange facial skin, extensive black on the breast, and the large collar of ornamental feathers that inspired this bird’s English name.”

That sounds very exotic. I’m not sure that the one I’m looking at matches that description.

“The female and the non-breeding male have grey-brown upperparts and mainly white underparts.”

That sounds dull and like all the rest of the waders I know.

Three differently plumaged types of male, including a rare form that mimics the female, use a variety of strategies to obtain mating opportunities at a lek.

Oh wow! They breed only after the males congregate and give a competitive show to the females who chose the most attractive male to breed with. Impressive. After reading, “A rare form which mimics the female”, I’m going to have to do some more research.

The Ruff’s scientific name is Calidris pugnax. Pugnax is from the same root as pugnacious or pugilist; it means combative.

“The plumage of the juvenile ruff resembles the non-breeding adult, but has upperparts with a neat, scale-like pattern with dark feather centres, and a strong buff tinge to the underparts.”

Make that five different birds of the same species.

But what’s this?

“Ruffs of both sexes have an additional moult stage between the winter and final summer plumages.”

I think we’re up to seven different plumage types now.

I wonder which one this is?

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