Ruff vs Common Redshank - an identification guide

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12 years 2 months ago #79 by Doug
Doug created the topic: Ruff vs Common Redshank - an identification guide
Although relatively simple to separate once the differences are known, these two species can prove a little tricky, particularly for those without detailed experience and knowledge of waders.
There are three simple areas on which to separate these birds.

Colouration and plumage

The first tip would be to never use the reddish base to the bill and the reddish legs as a guide for Common Redshank. Ruff is particularly variable and can have very similar leg colour and a reddish base to the bill. In fact Common Redshank can also be variable, especially when in juvenile stages, but that more detailed analysis is best kept for another discussion. The simple rule is if you see a reddish bill base and reddish legs, only use it as a guide to point you to these two species and not as a means to differentiate them.

When using the colouration and plumage for identification, the guidelines below help separate the two species.

Bill colour

Ruff - Bill very variable from completely black to having a black tip and a basal half ranging from yellow, through orange to reddish.
Also the junction between the base colour and the black is much more defined.

Courtesy Johan Van Rensburg

Common Redshank - Bill pretty consistent in colouration. Tip of the bill is bark grey-black and the basal half is deep reddish orange. The junction between the base colour and the black is slightly more graduated than in Ruff.

Courtesy Dewald Swanepoel

Back Colouration
Ruff - Ruff is generally browner in appearance with heavy scalloping on the back.
This heavy scalloping rules out most waders except Ruff.

Courtesy Doug Newman

Common Redshank - Generally very plainly marked (compare with plain back of Common Sandpiper) but the bird is generally greyer with a slight brown wash.

Courtesy Dewald Swanepoel

Shape and bill structure

This is also a very easy way to separate these 2 species. If you look at the silhouette of these two birds compared, you will see the following:-
Ruff: Shorter, dumpier looking bird with a relatively small head compared to it body; shorter, slightly deserved bill. Almost has a pot-bellied look. Bill tip has more of a blunt rounded end than Common Redshank.
Common Redshank: A more elongated look, much more like a sandpiper; also has a more elongated look due to longer wings. Bill is longer in comparison to a Ruff and does not decurve. Bill tip is pointier and sharper.

Ruff on the left and Common Redshank on the right.

Wing patterns

This is the real clincher when deciding if you have seen a Common Redshank or a Ruff.
The feather sections in the flight pattern are described below.

Tail - Ruff has white outertail coverts with a dark terminal band to the tail and a dark centre tail shaft joining up with the dark rump. Common redshank has tail all white with fine brown barring on the uppertail with the white and the fine barring moving up onto the rump.

Wings - Ruff has white tips to the greater wing coverts create a thin white wingbar in an otherwise mottle brownish general appearance to the upperwing. Common Redshank has almost completely white secondaries create a broad white trailing edge to the wings. This is the best diagnostic feature.

Upperwing of a Ruff (courtesy University of Puget Sound)

Upperwing of a Common Redshank (courtesy of the University of Puget Sound)

Here are general pitures of both species.

Courtesy Doug Newman.

Common Redshank.
Courtesy Dewald Swanepoel

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