Buffleheads may be the tiniest diving duck found in North America; they are also the spunkiest, and quite possibly the cutest. Buffleheads, along with their waterside courtship antics, have returned in full force to Cape Ann’s shores, having spent the breeding season in central Canada. Some will migrate as far south as central Mexico and lucky for us, we will have a population that remains all winter.Male Bufflehead
The English name is a combination of buffalo and head, referring to the bulbous head shape. This is most noticeable when the male puffs out the feathers on his head, greatly increasing how large his head appears to competing males and potential mates.
The genus name, Bucephala, is derived from Ancient Greek boukephalos, “bullheaded”, from bous, “bull ” and kephale, “head”, again a reference to the bulbous head shape of the species. The species name albeola is from Latin albus, white.
Ponds and waterways are filling up with one of the smallest ducks found on our shores, the Buffleheads. A most striking of winter residents (and feisty, too), the male is sharply feathered in black and white, with iridescent purple and green head feathers. The Buffleheads will be here through the winter, with most departing in early spring.
The name Bufflehead is derived from the name Buffalo-head, and they are so named because of the male’s puffy-shaped head. Another common name for this diminutive diver is Butterball.
The male’s head feathers are shaded with a beautiful rainbow sheen, while the female is a much plainer sort.
Next time you see a flock of ducks, look closely. You may be surprised by the range of different species within the group. Although not always the case, but more often than not at this time of year, I see several species within a flock. What typically happens as I try to get closer to photograph or film a flock of shore birds, the Mallards, which seem very comfortable around people will stay and the somewhat less seen species, such as Buffleheads, Gadwalls, and American Wigeons will fly away or swim vigorously out of my camera’s range.
I counted six different species of birds feeding in the seaweed at Brace Cove in the above photo.
This past autumn, and continuing through this winter, I have been filming and photographing B roll all around the ponds and marshes of Cape Ann. Today begins a mini series about shore birds, ducks, and wading birds, including photos and interesting facts, to help better identify the differences between the ducks and wading birds that migrate through, and winter over, on Cape Ann.
One of several Cape Ann geographical features that allows for such a wonderfully wide range of birds to be found on our shores and marshes is the fact that we lie within a largely unrestricted north south corridor for migratory species of birds and butterflies. What exactly does that mean? From the eastern coastline, all the way from Maine to Florida, and between the Appalachian Mountain range further west is a corridor where there are no barriers such as large bodies of water or mountains to fly over, which allows for unrestricted movement of birds and butterflies.
Male and Female Buffleheads
Male Buffleheads are one of the easiest birds to distinguish from a distance and within a group because of their sharp black and white coloring, comparatively smaller size, and pert, rounded shape. Upon closer inspection the males heads are marked with striking iridescent green and purplish feathers. The photo above shows three males and one female, and she is differentiated by her all over darker color and the patch of white feathers on her check. Rapid wingbeats make Buffleheads easier to distinguish when in flight as well. Their old-fashioned name of “Butterballs” aptly describes these beautiful and welcome winter migrants!
I am by no means a bird expert. I love to film and photograph the natural world around us and along the way find it fascinating to learn about the wildlife and flora that surrounds. Note to all nature and bird-loving readers ~ I hope you’ll comment with your expertise. I would love to hear from you!