This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the bufflehead.
This week, we’d like to turn attention to an acrobatic diving duck, small in size and loved by many birders for its exceptional cuteness. The bufflehead gets its English name from the combination of “buffalo” and “head,” as the male has a disproportionately large head for its body size. A relative of the cavity-nesting goldeneyes, buffleheads can squeeze into the small(ish) cavities excavated by northern flickers, a familiar North American member of the woodpecker family. They do this primarily alongside freshwater ponds and estuaries in the northern boreal forests of Canada.
The male has what some folks like to refer to as a “pie-shaped” wedge of white on the head, recognizable from a distance, and in heavy contrast to the iridescent green and purple color on the remainder of the head, and black on the back. The females, as with most ducks, have less distinctive markings, presenting in a darkish gray-brown color, but donning a recognizable white oval patch on its cheek. These ducks are athletic divers, arching their necks, then plummeting deep for aquatic insects and submergent plant material, only to resurface after a good while.
Buffleheads are often seen here in smaller numbers, mingling with other waterfowl. Recently, two pairs were spotted on Lake Forest amongst common mergansers, American wigeons, ring-necked ducks, mallards and Canada geese.