WHAT’S IN A NAME?

RUFF

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your Birding Month -

Back in the 15th Cen­tury, the first recorded name for what we now call the Ruff was the ‘ree’. It is thought that this name may de­rive from a di­alect word mean­ing fren­zied, re­fer­ring to the bat­tling at the ‘lek’ (the dis­play ground where males gather to show off and ‘bat­tle’ to im­press fe­males). ‘Ree’ even­tu­ally be­came ‘reeve’, which is be­lieved to have de­rived from a short­en­ing of ‘shire reeve’, which is the name of a county of­fi­cial (with the added in­flu­ence of the orig­i­nal ree name). This term is the same one which gives rise to sher­iff (by con­trac­tion) and may have been used for the bird to re­flect the flam­boy­ant plumage re­sem­bling the of­fi­cial’s garb. Reeve is still in use to­day (by some bird­ers, at least), but only for the fe­male (and some­times the ju­ve­niles by other bird­watch­ers). Males have been known as Ruffs since at least 1634, and again take their name from flam­boy­ant cloth­ing, re­fer­ring to the ex­ag­ger­ated neck frills of the dandy breed­ing males.

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