Bird of the Month: Bufflehead

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Bufflehead)

PC: Mick Thompson (Bufflehead)

Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola

Length 13-15 in

AOU Band code BUFF

The Bufflehead is one of the smallest ducks, 13-15”.  The male is mostly white, with black back, puffy head, steep forehead, small bill.  Head has a large white patch from the eye around to the back of the head.  Large white wing patches show in flight.  The female is duller, with small, elongated white patch on each side of the head.  Bufflehead nest in woodlands near small lakes and ponds.  During migration and in winter, they are found also on sheltered bays, rivers and lakes.  The male is sometimes confused with a male Hooded Merganser which has a fan-shaped white patch behind the eye, but the Hooded Merganser has dark sides, a spikelike bill, and is larger.

The handsome, hardy, little Bufflehead is another species that is peculiar to North America.  It was originally called “buffalo-head” because of its disproportionately large head.  This little duck seems to be a vivacious bird as it plunges beneath the surface and bursts out in full flight, disappearing into the distance with a blur of whirring wings.

The ease which this species rises from the water is unusual in the diving duck group and is similar to the style of the surface feeders.