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Philomachus pugnax (Ruff, Reeve (female)

Kemphaan [Afrikaans]; Koe-koe-lemao (generic term for sandpiper), Seealemabopo-se-maroboko [South Sotho]; Kemphaan [Dutch]; Combattant varié [French]; Kampfläufer [German]; Combatente [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Scolopacidae

Philomachus pugnax (Ruff, Reeve (female) Philomachus pugnax (Ruff, Reeve (female)

Ruff male (alternative form), Veldrif, Western Cape. [photo Jim Scarff ©]

Ruff male in non-breeding plumage, Britain. [photo Martin Goodey ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds in broad strip of land from The Netherlands across Northern Europe to Siberia, heading south in the non-breeding season to India, southern Arabia and much of sub-Saharan Africa, including southern Africa. Here it is common in patches across the region, largely excluding Mozambique, generally preferring damp meadows with shallow pools and ditches. It also occurs at salt-marshes, muddy estuaries, temporary pans, dams, vleis, sewage works, salt works and saline wetlands, occasionally moving to cultivated land and the open coast.

Distribution of Ruff in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Its breeding population in Siberia go on the longest migration of any terrestrial bird, as they first leave their colonies in July before heading west to the Black and Caspian Seas, then heading south to southern Africa, a total journey of approximately 16 000km . It arrives in southern Africa in August, after which adult males leave first in January, followed by immature males in February and finally adult and immature females in April and May. A very small proportion of them stay over winter in the region, usually because of injury.


It mainly eats invertebrates, such as insects and crustaceans, doing most of its foraging by wading through shallow water or mud, regularly probing in search of prey or grabbing small insects from the surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
  • Vertebrates
    • fish and their fry
    • small frogs
  • Plant matter, such as seeds


Not threatened, although destruction of grassland at its breeding grounds is cause for concern.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.