Ruff

Philomachus pugnax
Range Map

The Ruff is an unusual shorebird whose breeding practices seem puzzling. Male birds use leks to show off their prowess to prospective mates. Scientists have recently learned that because of a flipped chromosome (called a supergene), there are three types of males. First is the classic male with bright showy plumage. Second is a duller male with the mane of paler neck feathers who implants his genes when the alpha males are distracted with another female. The third male type is is a mimic who passes himself off as a female, but will impregnate a female when the opportunity presents itself. There seems to be some risks involved and some offspring will not survive if the female’s genes are not compatible (see this Article for more information).

On July 13, 2012, while on a casual photo safari at a local bird hangout, this bird ‘found’ me. I called a friend for identity confirmation, and when he announced via a text and an email broadcast, within minutes birders poured out of the woodwork to see this vagrant bird. I’d already gathered the images I wanted, so I spent the rest of my time watching excited birders chasing after their quarry.

Today’s science views the Ruff as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

Click map markers to reveal further information