Meet the magnificent male ruff in our Waterscapes Aviary

In summer, most male ruff grow a bouffant fluffy neck-collar, worthy of an Elizabethan gentleman, in quite a variety of rusty colours.

The darker the better as these ruff maintain a territory known as a lek, whilst blonde and white male ruff tend to be ‘satellite’ males, which will support the lek holder but mate with fewer females. In addition there are also very rare ‘female-plumaged’ males, who stay out of the limelight in the hope of mating females through subtlety. In every species’ social structure there is amazing levels of strategy!

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Both comical and incredible with their breeding behavioural repertoire, you might find a male ruff courting the ladies in a most extraordinary manner. They do a lot of posturing, lunging towards the females with their ruffs fully-fluffed. They will sometimes sit in a hollow, poised and ready, still as a stone. They’ll sometimes jump and flap over each other in a bit of a dance-off, but the effect of this appears to be ultimately inelegant.

In addition they develop coloured warts on their cheeks ranging from yellow and orange to fiery red. The ability to create facial colours is an honest signal of health in the bird world, and often therefore dominance. It seems that female ruff enjoy the variety, as females will often mate with multiple males, helping to keep the gene pool well represented. Because of this, all the kinds of male ruff tend to be represented in future generations in percentages relating to their strategy, and so we get to enjoy their variety.

We’re so pleased to have such a great variety of male ruff in our Waterscapes Aviary at Slimbridge. There will only be another week or so before they begin to moult, so do come down and see them in their breeding finery this season.


Image credit: Gina Jarman / Amy Alsop

Written by Phoebe Vaughan