Ruffs in the wader aviary

It’s a flurry of activity in the wader aviary at the moment with avocet, shoveler, turtle dove and bearded tit chicks and the ruff displaying with their elegant plumage.

Male ruff have large colourful manes of feathers around their necks and shoulders, which provided the inspiration for their name. In the spring male ruff converge into groups called a lek, here the males will display, which draws the females. The females will then approach the territory of the male they think is the most impressive.

Now, this all sounds typical for breeding bird behaviour; however, there are three distinct types of male ruff. Males with black or brown ruffs display in the lek. Males with white ruffs are called satellite males and do not display in the lek but are tolerated by the dominant darker males, so they can be found wondering along the edges of the dominant males’ territories. It is believed these uneasy alliances are formed as the white satellite males increase the number of males in the area and make the lek look more impressive. These less aggressive satellite males are very sneaky as they are able to mate with the females when the dominant males aren’t looking.

Unbelievably more sneaky is the third type of male. 3.8 million years ago a mutation appeared where chromosome 11 was inverted which has caused these males to look like females. This allows these males to be in very close proximity to the females so are able to mates with the females before the dominant male can get there.

Only 1% of male ruff look like females. 16% of males have white ruffs, although this mutation appeared much more recently around 500,000 years ago, it has been a little more successful.
Have you spotted which types of males we have in our flock?