One of the smallest ducks
found in the state, the Bufflehead can be distinguished by the male's large
white patch on the back of its otherwise black head. Its small size allows
it to use nest cavities of Flickers and other
similarly sized cavities, giving it an ample supply of nesting locations. They
are a diving duck, feeding underwater. As with many duck species in the United
States, populations have rebounded strongly in recent decades.
Habitat: Prefers small ponds and lakes
with surrounding woodland for breeding. Winters on small ponds, lakes, and
rivers inland, also in shallow bays and estuaries along the coasts.
Diet: Primarily insects and insect
larvae in the summer. Primarily crustaceans and mollusks in the
winter. Also will occasionally eat plant material.
Behavior: Nearly always feeds by submerging and
obtaining food underwater. Buffleheads are not as gregarious as many
ducks, and are often found in pairs or small flocks.
Nesting: June and July in their North American Range.
Buffleheads are cavity nesters, typically using old burrows of woodpeckers or
other burrows when available (including nest boxes). They are monogamous,
with birds often returning to the same nesting location year after year. The
female lays between 7 and 10 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The eggs hatch
after about 4 weeks. The young leave the nest only a day after hatching, and may
be tended to by the female as they grow, but the young find their own food.
Song: Squeaky whistling and low grumbling.
Migration: Summers primarily in Canada and
Alaska. Winters along North American coasts, throughout much of the
southern half of the U.S., and points south.
Similar Species: Hooded
Merganser perhaps, as it shares the same kind of large
white patch on the back of the head. However, the Bufflehead's size, plumage,
and unique shape make it a rather easy species to identify if it's seen well.
Birdhouses: Will use appropriately sized nest boxes
Conservation Status: As with many waterfowl species in
the United States, conservation efforts, reasonable hunting regulations, and
restoration of habitat has led to a strong increase in populations over the last
few decades. Bufflehead are common in many parts of a very large range.
The IUCN considers the
Bufflehead as a species of "least concern".
Cornell University's "All About Birds - Bufflehead"
Photo Information: April 11th, 2010 -
Dewey Gevik Nature Area,
South Dakota - Terry Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Bufflehead photos.