Photo Credit: Terry Hartley - Due South Photography
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bucephala albeola
OTHER NAMES: Butterball, Dipper
STATUS: Common in winter, early spring, and late fall in Tennessee Valley and Gulf Coast regions. Uncommon in winter, spring, and fall in Inland Coastal Plain and Mountain regions. Low Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: A small diving duck that varies in length from 12.7 to 15.6 inches and weighs from 0.68 to 1.4 pounds. Males are generally larger in length and weight than females. Males have a large white wedge-shaped cap that extends from below the eye and across the top of the head. The head is blackish with an iridescent green and purple sheen. The upper body and back are black with white along the sides, breast, neck and belly area. The males have a light blue-grey bill and fleshy pink legs and feet. The females have an oval white patch along the side of the head that extends from below the eye towards the nape of the neck. Their head, back, neck and wings are a brownish color. The breast and sides are a dark gray and the belly is white. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are a blue-gray.
DISTRIBUTION: Buffleheads are found from southern Alaska to the forested areas of western Canada, central Ontario and eastern Quebec during the breeding season. As the winter migration season begins, buffleheads will move south following the major flyways to wintering ground along the east and west coast as well as along the Gulf of Mexico and southern Florida.
HABITAT: During the breeding season, buffleheads prefer freshwater impoundments and small deep lakes or ponds with adjacent woodlands. During the winter months, they can be found resting and feeding in shallow saltwater coves, harbors or beaches along the coastal areas as well as on freshwater lakes, ponds and impoundments along the flyways.
FEEDING HABITS: Buffleheads feed by diving under water to capture aquatic insects, dragon fly larvae and midge larvae but will feed on some seeds. During the winter months, they will eat crustaceans and mollusks in saltwater areas.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Buffleheads will start forming breeding pairs before reaching their breeding ground in the spring and may keep the same mate for several years. Buffleheads nest in tree cavities that are created by woodpeckers as well as other nest cavities. They do not use any nesting material to line their nest but prefer to lay their eggs on the bare bottom of their cavity. The female will lay a clutch of eight or nine eggs and cover them with down feathers. Incubation begins when the last egg is laid. The hen will incubate the eggs for 28 to 30 days. Once the eggs are hatched, the ducklings will climb to the entrance of the cavity and jump to the ground where the female will lead them to the water. Once in the water, ducklings feed by dabbling for a few days and then start diving for their food.
Bellrose, F.C. 1976. Ducks, geese and Swans of North America, 2nd ed. Stackpole, PA
Ducks Unlimited- www.ducks.org
Delta Waterfowl - www.deltawaterfowl.org
Author: Phil Miller, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries