Bufflehead

April 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The smallest diving duck in North America, the Bufflehead is a close relative of the Common and Barrows Goldeneye. Males make a bold statement with their striking head pattern. In flight, the male resembles the larger Common Goldeneye, yet the large white area on their head makes them easy to distinguish. If you think you have a Bufflehead flying past you, but can hear a "whirring" sound coming from their wings, you are actually seeing a Common Goldeneye as the Bufflehead wings do not make this sound in flight. One cool thing that I find interesting about the Bufflehead is their summer range. They tend to migrate no further North than the Northern Flicker because the Bufflehead will usually nest in old tree cavities created by the Flickers. The males, as seen in todays photo, have an iridescent green and purple gloss on the front part of their head and neck.

Behavior: (credit, allaboutbirds.org)

Bufflehead swim buoyantly, dive easily, and take flight by running a short distance on the surface. They fly low over the water and higher over the land. To dive, Bufflehead compress their plumage to squeeze out air, then give a slight forward leap and plunge powerfully downward. They hold their wings tightly against their bodies underwater and use only their feet to propel themselves. At the end of a dive, they may bob to the surface like a cork. Throughout the day they alternate between bouts of feeding, swimming alertly, preening, and sleeping. Bufflehead are seldom seen on dry land: females walk only when they lead their broods from the nest to the water or when they’re forced to switch ponds with their ducklings. Males court females by flying over them, skiing to a stop on the water with their crests raised, and bobbing their heads. During the breeding season, territorial birds attack intruders by flying or swimming underwater at them and thrashing at them with their wings. When a pair intrudes into a territory, the territorial male often chases the intruding female while the intruding male chases after them both. Males leave their mates during incubation in order to molt, but return to the same mate multiple years in a row (one of the few duck species in which this is true).

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