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The Bufflehead is a small duck that is easily recognized by the male’s huge white patch on the back of his head. They are winter visitors here to enjoy our mild weather compared to the frozen north where they return to nest in spring.

At 13˝ inches Buffleheads are thought to be the smallest duck. They have a compact body, small bill and a large head. Males are mostly white with a black back. Their head is iridescent black with a large white wedge that starts from behind the eye. Females are dusky colored with a charcoal gray head and a white patch behind the eye. They were named ‘buffalo head’ duck because of their large shaggy head.

Buffleheads prefer larger lakes and reservoirs. They feed in the water, diving for insects, snails, crustaceans and submerged plants. Fish are an important part of their winter diet. They are one of the best divers, swimming with their feet and bobbing back to the surface like a cork. One will stand lookout while the others dive to feed.

In the spring Buffleheads return to the ponds of northwest Canada. The female returns to the area where she was born. She nests in old Flicker holes, 5-20 feet off the ground and within 650 feet of water. The female incubates 6-10 eggs for a month. The young stay in the nest for only a couple of days then the mother coaxes them to leap from the tree and then leads them to water. The young won’t be able to fly for another two months, which is just about the time the ponds start to freeze over again.

For the Mendocino Coast Audubon I’m Pam Huntley wishing you happy birding.

First published September 2009 MCAS Whistling Swan
Bufflehead photo courtesy Ron LeValley