Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Porrón Albeola (Spanish)
- Petit Garrot (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- The Bufflehead nests almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers.
- Unlike most ducks, the Bufflehead is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years.
- Bufflehead normally live only in North America, but in winter they occasionally show up elsewhere, including Kamchatka, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Belgium, France, Finland, and Czechoslovakia. In some of these cases, the birds may have escaped from captivity.
- The oldest Bufflehead on record was at least 18 years and 8 months old. It was caught and re-released by a bird bander in New York in 1975.
- Bufflehead fossils from the late Pleistocene (about 500,000 years ago) have been found in Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. One California fossil that resembles a modern Bufflehead dates to the late Pliocene, two million years ago.