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The Beautiful Little Bufflehead

Updated on April 6, 2015
Bufflehead pair
Bufflehead pair | Source

Description

The smallest wild duck in North America, the little Bufflehead is only about 13 inches in length, with a wingspan of 24 inches, and a weight of only a pound. The male is primarily snow white, with a black back, tail, rump, and primary and tertiary feathers. Its head is large and round, with a metallic green-purple on the lower and front areas. The feet are red-orange, the bill is blue, and the crown, cheeks, and top of the rear of the head are snow white. A young male will get his adult plumage when he is about 1 ½ years of age, but until then, will resemble the female.

The female is just a little smaller. She is mostly a soft brown, with an off-white breast and belly. Just behind and below her eyes is a white cheek patch, and a portion of her speculum(contrasting iridescent feathers on the side) is white. She also has gray feet.

Female Bufflehead
Female Bufflehead | Source

Distribution

This buffalo-headed or ox-headed duck is in all states except Hawaii and all Canadian provinces. It breeds north of the Canadian border to Alaska, concentrated in the wooded western part of Canada. It winters from Maine to Alaska south to the Mexican-Central American border and along all the coasts. Where lakes and rivers aren’t frozen, this duck can be found.

Source
Source
Buffleheads Mating
Buffleheads Mating | Source

Breeding and Nesting

The males fight among themselves, aggressively chasing each other. He raises the head feathers, points his bill upward, and swims around and toward females. The male will also dive under the female, and when he emerges again, will lower his bill in the water, shake his head from side to side, and send water into the air. If one female doesn’t care for him, he will go to another and repeat the process. When he locates one to accept him, they will fly away to locate a nesting spot together.

On Friday, April 12, 2013, I finally got my chance to observe the Buffleheads intense in the mating ritual. The male was more passive than I thought he would be. The females were much more aggressive, several of them involved in chasing the lone male. He was doing head bobs, as were the females, and he flew off alone the first time. He returned within five minutes, picked a female, and she flew off with him. It appears that they will actually nest on Boomer Lake this year, so I will keep a watch for the young, so wish me luck in that endeavor. Who knows, we might just have a real treat in store for us!

This cavity nester usually nests in abandoned flicker holes. They will also seek any natural cavity, but will never make their own. Only rotten wood and down from the female is used for nesting material. As long as the nest site is near water, that’s really all that matters to the Bufflehead.

Bufflehead Ducklings
Bufflehead Ducklings | Source

Eggs and Young Ones

A typical clutch is about eleven eggs and incubation is about three weeks, which is performed solely by the female. The young ones look quite similar to their mother, and they have no difficulty leaving the nest at the mother’s request. They climb up the inside of their cavity and simply jump out or fall out of the opening. They will just pick themselves up and race after their mother to the water.

Male Bufflehead Ducks
Male Bufflehead Ducks | Source

Flight

The young take to the wing at about two months old. This is the only diving duck that can take off directly from the water by springing into the air without running across the water’s surface. After the duck submerges for food, it actually flies to the surface again, bursting into the air from the water. They travel in small flocks, flying just over the water’s surface. Only during migration will they fly higher.

Habits

They are very social and frequently mingle with other ducks, like scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Goldeneyes. They get along with any duck that happens to be in the vicinity.

Source

Food

Eighty percent of the diet is animal matter, the remaining is vegetable. They prefer to feed in shallow areas by diving for it. They usually stay submerged for a good 35 seconds, then will pop up again to breathe. They enjoy fish, small crustaceans, water beetles, small mollusks, pondweed, wild celery, and wild rice.

Enemies

Due to its small size, this duck is hunted by numerous airborne and terrestrial predators, like the eagle and hawk. It also has its share of afflications, like disease, parasites, and accidents.

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Source
"Screeching Halt"
"Screeching Halt" | Source

© 2012 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are amazing birds with so much personality. Last year they left, but they seem to be staying around in 2013, which is a welcome change. I am so hoping to find ducklings this year.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Aviannovice... Thank you for writing this. I have always been a lover of these little guys. We have many come and spend their summers here and take their new young south with them again. They are so sociable and fun to watch.

      Thank you for all the work you and your wife do for the birds...

      Hugs and Blessings from Canada

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Chris! They are great little ducks. You never know what you might see for birds when out and about.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 5 years ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      I love the Buffleheads. All the water birds are special. Thanks for writing about these birds. It reminds me to keep my eyes open when I am out and around.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You could well have seen them. They are gorgeous, and very fast under water. Thanks, frogyfish.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Eleven kids at a time!! Poor Mom... Enjoyable description of this loveable little creature. Wonder if I've seen them popping up from their dive at my pond, because some of them certainly do that! Thank you for this fun and informative duck-tale.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Eddy! They are adorable little ducks with a lot of pizzazz. They love to hang around with all kinds of ducks, and are very social..

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sure, Sheila, share away. If you ever want to come up this way to see them, let me know. I can let you know when my days off are. They rotate around every week.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A still have a few here, Jackie. They might stay until they can't fish anymore, when things start freezing over. Mine were gone for a few days, but returned.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      So truly beautiful my friend, I vote across ,up and share.

      Eddy.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I haven't seen any of these ducks around my place. They are beautiful ducks and the chicks are adorable! I would love to find some on my place! Voting up, interesting and would like to share this on my wildlife blog. :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      These are beautiful, I just love to watch them tearing up the water cleaning up. I think my heron fly south, because I would see him every day I went out and now the last three times I see him nowhere. Oh well, next spring. I will be ready for him!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Excellent! Was it a Ruddy Duck, Jim? They are a few Pied-Billed Grebes around here, too, and I adore them, they are so sweet. This lake is now a hotbed of activity with ducks.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I saw a pair of Buffleheads today at Delta Ponds, among with a few Pied-billed Grebes and some smallish ducks with blue bills whose name escapes me. Just thought I'd tell you, Deb.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad to hear it, Meldz. There are SO many ducks out there, it is mind-boggling, sometimes.

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      ignugent17 5 years ago

      They are so cute. Thank you very much for the information of these kind of ducks. I see like these ones in our pond for their stop over.

      Voted up and interesting. :-)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Alicia! One cannot help but be impressed with these wonderful little ducks.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jim. These are one of the ducks on my All-Star List!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You don't think I wouldn't show the kids for such a gorgeous duck? I just had to do it!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, whonu! They sure are precious. The group here seems to be spreading out, so I wonder if they might be here for the winter...

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Buffleheads are lovely ducks. Thanks for the information and the photos, Deb. I often see these birds where I live. It's great to learn more about them.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is a great duck and a a great hub about one my favorites as well.

      Your descriptions are detailed and helpful always, and the photos are great!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I was reading away and thought, this would be cute if there were pictures of (chicks)... AND there they were! (just as I thought chicks).

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 5 years ago from United States

      A precious variety of the duck family and thanks for your beautiful photos, aviannovice.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Bill! Yes, they are wonderful little ducks. The more time that I spend with them, the more that I like them....

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Deb. Great look at our little friend here. I have seen them here in western Mass. and they are a joy to watch. Great job.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I have not met any personally, Phoebe, but one day, I know that I will. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

      The young ones look so cute!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Billy! I have observed them quite a bit all week. I really like them, too. You should see them pop out of the water once they have been diving.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you highlighted this little guy; he is my favorite of the duck family. Great info, loved the pictures.