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Bufflehead

Bucephala albeola

Buffleheads are small, chunky diving ducks. (Dan Mullen/Flickr)
Buffleheads are small, chunky diving ducks. (Dan Mullen/Flickr)

The bufflehead is a small, chunky, energetic diving duck that visits the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers from autumn through spring.

Appearance:

  • Small, chunky body
  • Males and females have different patterns and coloring
  • Males are mostly white with a black back. They have a glossy, greenish-black head with a large white patch on the back that looks like a bonnet.
  • Females have a whitish-gray chest and a grayish-brown back, head and wings. They have a white patch on their wings and a small white smudge on their cheeks.
  • Short neck
  • Short, gray bill
  • Grows to about 15 inches with a wingspan of 24 inches

Habitat:

  • Flocks can be found on the open waters and adjacent wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers
  • Also lives on freshwater lakes and ponds throughout the Bay watershed

Range:

  • Visits the Bay region from autumn through spring, with a peak in November
  • Begins to arrive in October
  • Migrates back to its northern breeding grounds between mid-April and May

Feeding:

  • Eats a variety of aquatic plants and small animals, including insects, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish
  • Dives for its prey and swallows it whole while still underwater

Predators:

  • Minks, weasels, hawks, falcons and bald eagles may prey on buffleheads
  • One bufflehead will usually watch for predators while the others in its flock dive for food

Flight:

  • Takes off by flying straight up from the water. This is different than most diving ducks, which run across the water’s surface before taking off.
  • Flies low over the water and high over the land
  • Can be identified in flight by its black-and-white patterns and white wing patches

Voice:

  • Usually silent during winter, when it is not breeding season
  • Males may make a hoarse squeak or squeal
  • Female’s call is a weak, harsh quack

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Does not nest and breed in the Bay region
  • Breeding grounds are located mostly in Alaska and northern Canada
  • Unlike most ducks, buffleheads are monogamous and stay with the same mate for several years
  • Can live as long as 12-15 years

Other Facts:

  • Also known as butterballs
  • The smallest diving duck in North America
  • Buffleheads are constantly moving, either swimming along the water’s surface or diving underneath in search of food
  • Like other diving ducks, buffleheads are clumsy on land because their legs are located far back on the body.

Sources and Additional Information:

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