Bufflehead

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, we talk about a small diving duck known as the Bufflehead. Strange name, right? The interwebs tells me that the name comes from the term “buffalo head” referring to the bird’s large noggin. From a distance, the Bufflehead is a striking black and white; black back, and head, with white underparts, and a large white spot on the back of its head. A closer look (in good light) reveals the “black” head is actually iridescent green and purple! Females, are more of a greyish-brown, with a white cheek spot. They have a similar silhouette to the Common Goldeneye, which is one of its closest relatives.

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Female Bufflehead, St. Louis Zoo, MO

Looking at the Bufflehead’s range map, you’ll notice that these guys are found only in a small portion of the northwestern part of the U.S. year round, everywhere else on the continent, they are only found part of the year; summers in Canada, and winters in the U.S. and northern Mexico. These little guys were always a sure sign of winter in Central Park. They’d show up like clockwork near the end of October and early November, and stay all winter long, until about March. It’s kind of interesting though, of the Park’s six main waterbodies, I’ve only ever seen Bufflehead on two; The Pool, and the Reservoir. I assume they are the same birds, and just go back to the same wintering grounds every year. I mean, if ain’t broke…. There was almost always an even number of males and females as well. I’ve since learned that Bufflehead are more monogamous than most ducks, staying with the same mate for several years.

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Drake Bufflehead, St. Louis Zoo, MO

Bufflehead nest in tree hollows, similar to those of the Wood Duck. Interestingly, they nest almost exclusively in old hollows made by Northern Flickers. I assume it’s because they happen to be the right size, but I imagine them on House Hunters like “I don’t know Bernice. The last tenants were Pileated Woodpeckers,” “But Jerry, this place has so much character!”

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Two female Bufflehead, Central Park, NY

Sadly, I’ve not yet seen any wild Bufflehead here in St. Louis. There are some at the St. Louis Zoo, which does afford some nice, close looks though. It’s too bad, I do miss these little guys. They just seem to have a cool little personality. Join me next time when we talk about one of the most infamous invasive birds in North America, perhaps the most infamous; the European Starling

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