Rare bird breeding in Uist

The spectacular redruff. Photo by Cliff Reddick
The spectacular redruff. Photo by Cliff Reddick

One of the rarest and most spectacular breeding birds in Britain has been putting on its annual courtship dance on the Outer Hebrides.

Although the ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a common breeder in Fennoscandia and Russia, less than half a dozen ever breed in Scotland.

As part of the stunning display, the brightly coloured males, who have bright red, black or white necks that they puff out when lekking, gather together and dance to attract females.

Four lekking males have been observed at the RSPB Balranald Nature Reserve on North Uist, one of the only places in the whole country this courtship display can be observed.

Ruff normally pass through the islands on their way north in spring but over the last five years some male birds have stayed throughout June and formed these small dancing parties.

Females which are smaller and drably-coloured join the lek to choose their brightly coloured mate.

The females hide their nests and young in thick vegetation in wet grasslands, of which the reserve has plenty.

In the autumn, large numbers of ruff again pass through the UK heading south, for they are long distance migrants, wintering in the Mediterranean, middle-east and sub–Saharan Africa.