• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer



IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Bufflehead Photo

A buoyant, large-headed duck that abruptly vanishes and resurfaces as it feeds, the tiny Bufflehead spends winters bobbing in bays, estuaries, reservoirs, and lakes. Males are striking black-and white from a distance. A closer look at the head shows glossy green and purple setting off the striking white patch. Females are a subdued gray-brown with a neat white patch on the cheek. Bufflehead nest in old woodpecker holes, particularly those made by Northern Flickers, in the forests of northern North America.


  • Calls
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Males often give a grating or chattering call during their head-bobbing courtship displays, and they may squeal or growl in late winter or spring. Females give a guttural cuk-cuk-cuk call when circling around potential nest sites. Females also call to their ducklings with a low, throaty note that makes them hurry after her. Bufflehead are quieter than other ducks in their genus.

Other Sounds

When males fly toward females in courtship, they often land with a slapping sound.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Bufflehead will take up residence in nest boxes during the summer in forested areas of central and western Canada. Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Bufflehead are more likely to choose a small box (6 x 6 x 15 inches) with a 2.5-inch-diameter opening than a large box (7 x 7 x 15 inches or bigger) with a larger opening. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

During the winter, look for these tiny, black-and-white ducks in sheltered coves along the Atlantic or Pacific coast, or on inland ponds in southern North America. While foraging they spend half their time underwater, so scan carefully and patiently. In the summer you can visit their breeding grounds near lakes in the boreal forest and aspen parklands of central Canada.



Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.