- Size: 13.5” long with 21” wingspan.
- Color: males in breeding plumage have nearly black head with purplish-green iridescence and a large white patch on the back, body has black back and white undersides. Females a dark dusky gray with white patch near ear. Both have white wing patch visible in flight.
- Habitat: winters in bays and coastal waters, nests in Canada.
- Where and when to observe: seen in brackish waterways and along coasts like Jamaica Bay, Fort Tilden and Floyd Bennett Field.
Sometimes just the far-off flash of white on the water is the first clue that the Buffleheads have arrived for the winter!
Such jaunty bright white feathers on the head sharply contrast with overall dark coloring of the male’s showy breeding plumage in October through May when they arrive in our area. Females sport far more muted plumage but a white spot near the ear helps with identification.
Our smallest diving duck, Buffleheads feed on insects, crustaceans, and mollusks which they swallow while still underwater. They winter as far south as Mexico near shallow salt water areas, lakes and rivers – look for them assembled in small groups along our coastal waters including Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Fort Tilden, and Floyd Bennett Field.
Buffleheads begin to migrate north to Canada in spring where they nest in tree cavities. Females lay 8-10 eggs that hatch in approximately one month. Chicks are precocial – able to feed and keep themselves warm – soon after hatching and fledge in about 50 days.
Excessive hunting in the early 20th century seriously impacted Bufflehead populations, but thankfully the species has since rebounded, more than doubling their numbers between 1955 and 1992, though year-to-year fluctuations may occur.
- All About Birds: Bufflehead by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology accessed on 1/16/09 at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/bufflehead/id
- The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, published 1988 by Simon and Schuster.
- The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley, published 2000 by Chanticleer Press.
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