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Bufflehead

Bucephala albeola

Diving Ducks Family

Waterfowl Identification

 
Male Bufflehead
male
Female Bufflehead
female
Similar Waterfowl:
None
Description:
Male buffleheads have a large white patch across the back of the head that extends from cheek to cheek, forming a bushy crest. The remainder of the head is blackish with an iridescent green and purple sheen. The neck, scapulars, breast, belly, and sides are white, and the back and rump are black. The upper wing surface is blackish except for the white speculum extending from the inner and middle secondaries across to the outer lesser and marginal coverts. The bill is light blue-gray and the legs and feet are fleshy pink. Female buffleheads have a brownish head and neck, except for an oval white patch that extends from below the eye back towards the nape of the neck. The breast, sides, and flanks are dark gray, the back is blackish, the belly is whitish, and the tail is grayish brown. The upper wing surface is blackish brown, except for the inner and middle secondaries and inner greater coverts, which are white, tipped with black. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are grayish.
Typical Size:
The male and female average 14 inches in length and weigh about 1 pound. They have a wingspan of 23 inches.
Habitat:
Bufflehead prefer habitats near lakes and deep ponds with associated temperate woodlands.
Breeding:
Buffleheads breed from southern Alaska through the forested areas of western Canada, central Ontario, and eastern Quebec. Ninety percent of the population is believed to breed from Manitoba westward. Buffleheads are cavity-nesting ducks and the female buffleheads lay an average of 9 eggs.
Diet:
Bufflehead feed on small fishes, crayfishes, and other crustaceans, and aquatic insects.
Migration:
Buffleheads are believed to congregate on large lakes or in major river systems until freeze-up in the fall, or immediately after thaw in the spring. Buffleheads from eastern Alberta migrate to the eastern U.S. and the Gulf Coast of Mexico and birds from western Canada migrate south along the Pacific Flyway. They concentrate along the coasts during the winter, with no particular area wintering the majority of the population and occur from Newfoundland to southern Florida, and along the Gulf of Mexico.
Flyway Patterns:
The bufflehead are common to the Atlantic and Pacific flyways.
Flight Formation:
Small irregular flocks close to water. They have a rapid wing beat and reach speeds of 70 MPH.
Voice:
The males have a squeaky whistle and the females have a hoarse QUACK.

Bufflehead Flight and Plumage Characteristics

This guide will help you recognize Bufflehead on the wing - it emphasizes their fall and winter plumage patterns as well as size, shape, and flight characteristics. Most Buffleheads migrate just before freezeup and small flocks of five to six birds are seen in feeding areas, usually with more hens and immature birds than adult drakes. They are identified by their low swift flight, black and white color pattern and very small size. Unusual amoung diving ducks, they can fly straight up from a watery takeoff much like puddle ducks. Both seacoasts and the Gulf of Mexico support the largest concentration and Inland, they will travel as far north as open water permits. The voices of both drakes and hens are usually silent.

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