The Ruff has a distinctive gravy boat appearance, with a small head, medium-length bill, longish neck and pot-bellied body. It has long legs that are variable in colour but usually yellow or orange. In flight, it displays a thin, indistinct white bar on the wing, and white ovals on the sides of the tail.

Habitat and Distribution

The Ruff breeds in Europe and Asia from Scandinavia and Great Britain almost to the Pacific. In Europe it is found in cool temperate areas, but over its Russian range it is an Arctic species. It is migratory breeding in wetlands in colder regions of northern Eurasia, and spends the northern winter in the tropics, mainly in Africa. The Ruff breeds in extensive lowland freshwater marshes and damp grasslands.


The bird forages in soft mud. It feeds using a steady walk and pecking action, selecting food items by sight. During breeding they eat the larva and adults of insects such as beetles and flies. In winter they eat insects, seeds and aquatic plants.


The nest is a shallow ground scrape lined with grass leaves and stems, and concealed in marsh plants or tall grass. The male, which plays no part in nesting or chick care. The typical clutch is four eggs. The eggs are slightly glossy, green or olive, and marked with dark blotches. They are laid from mid-March to early June.