Calidris pugnax (Linnaeus, 1758) RU RUFF. 5170
Family: Charadriiformes > Scolopacidae

Ruff, Edmund Fellowes

This medium-sized wader can seem ungainly, with its short bill, small head and a halting gait. Sightings logged through BirdTrack reveal that Ruff can be encountered throughout the year, although highest numbers occur in early August, when migration occurs.

Summer plumage is a varied affair in Ruff, with richly-mottled earthy colours and a feathery collar of either russet, black or white, giving rise to their name. Males display communally in front of females at sites known as ‘leks’.

In autumn, the Ouse Washes and the nearby Norfolk coast hold the largest concentrations of Ruff, including smart gingery juvenile birds, which can be seen feeding in marshes and wet fields, sometimes accompanying plovers on bare arable land.


Ruff identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Ruff.

related video

Identifying Ruff

Ruff. Photograph by Ed Drewitt

Ruff, with their variable size and plumage, often present identification issues. However, by learning how to recognise Ruff in their various guises through this video, you’ll be able to pick them out with confidence, and have a great reference point for identifying other similar-looking waders.

Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



This species was once a more common breeding species in the UK but substantial declines occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries (Birds of England) since when Ruff has been a scarce breeding species. More recently, RBBP figures indicate that the Ruff has suffered a strong decline in breeding numbers in the 25 years to 2019, with a five-year mean of 13 females in the period 2015–2019; the UK range has shifted northwards with most breeding records now coming from Scotland (Eaton et al. 2021).


In winter, Ruffs are found at inland and coastal locations, predominantly in England, and are scarce elsewhere. They are very scarce breeders in Britain. Fenland remains a favoured area, but elsewhere breeding is now confined to northwest England and the Hebrides.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Ruffs are recorded year-round though with a strong peak during autumn migration.

Weekly occurence of Ruff from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Ruff ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Ruff, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Gibeagan
Welsh: Pibydd Torchog
Catalan: batallaire
Czech: jespák bojovný
Danish: Brushane
Dutch: Kemphaan
Estonian: tutkas
Finnish: suokukko
French: Combattant varié
German: Kampfläufer
Hungarian: pajzsoscankó
Icelandic: Rúkragi
Irish: Rufachán
Italian: Combattente
Latvian: gugatnis
Lithuanian: gaidukas
Norwegian: Brushane
Polish: batalion
Portuguese: combatente
Slovak: bojovník bahenný
Slovenian: togotnik
Spanish: Combatiente
Swedish: brushane


Interpretation and scientific publications about Ruff from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The decline in UK since 1970s mirrors the pattern shown in larger populations across Europe (Keller et al. 2020). There has also been a change of migration route with most of the main population from Russia now migrating through Belarus rather than western Europe(Rakhimberdiev et al. 2011, Verkuil et al. 2012). This change is believed to have been caused by a deterioration in the quality of staging sites in the Netherlands and, as a consequence of the reduced numbers of passage birds, a long-term recovery in the number of breeding Ruff in the UK is considered unlikely even if suitable habitat exists in the UK.


Peer-reviewed papers
Avocet - Amy Lewis

Consequences of population change for local abundance and site occupancy of wintering waterbirds

Wavering Waterbirds

2017 | Méndez, V., Gill, J.A., Alves, J.A., Burton, N.H.K. & Davies, R.G.Diversity and Distributions

Protected sites are assigned based on population statistics for vulnerable and endangered species. This new study using WeBS data shows that changes in population size can affect local abundance, and thus influence whether or not key targets are met for site protection.

Peer-reviewed papers

Sex differences in the migration, moult and wintering areas of British-ringed Ruff

1995 | Gill, J.A., Clark, J.A., Clark, N.A. & Sutherland, W.J.Ringing & Migration

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