Birds of Cape Ann: Buffleheads

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.

Buffleheads, gulls Brace Cove ©Kim Smith 2014 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 buffflerheads ©Kim Smith 2014Male 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 GMG nature and bird-loving readers ~  I hope you’ll comment with your expertise. We would love to hear from you!

About Kim Smith

Currently creating documentary films about the Monarch Butterfly, Black Swallowtail Butterfly, and Gloucester's Feast of St. Joseph. Landscape designer for the Gloucester Harbor Walk Gardens. Designer, lecturer, author, illustrator, photographer. Visit my blog for more information about my landscape and interior design firm- Good Morning Gloucester daily contributor. Author/illustrator "Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden"
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23 Responses to Birds of Cape Ann: Buffleheads

  1. happy me says:

    E.J.’s Wikipedia nailed for me.

  2. diane douglas says:

    great picture

  3. Christopher says:

    I love Buffleheads. So unique looking. I’ve been out a lot this season with Atticus (my son), checking out all the cool winter birds–including the snowy owls we’ve seen lately. We’re about to start a birding blog for homeschool project for Atticus. What a great place to live!

    • Kim Smith says:

      What a great project for you and Atticus!!! Perfect age, and you must be having so much fun with it–actually all ages are great for learning about and finding inspiration in nature.

  4. Dave Moore says:

    Excellent shots here! You are right the birds that are more used to humans tend to feel safer and some times these may even been domesticated ducks that escaped – from owner (Remember the Great Escape Steve McQueen the cooler King-Freedom short lived) .

    Thanks Dave :-)

  5. Tom Halsted says:

    That’s quite a congenial gathering of waterfowl there: mallards, buffleheads, herring gulls, a black-backed gull, a merganser, and who are the two little guys in the left foreground? Any ideas?

  6. gregbover says:

    I’ve been told that there are more birds on Cape Ann in winter than in summer. BTW the Chamber of Commerce will be running the Winter Birding Weekend again this year, a great chance to see the birds, bus tours guided by experts, lectures, etc.

  7. Meg Lee says:

    Thanks for identifying! I saw what I believe to be Buffleheads last month at the Seaport Marina in Lynn, MA, but had no idea what they were!

    • Kim Smith says:

      You are welcome Meg. I am finding them in so many places this year: the salt marsh at Good Harbor, Gloucester Harbor, Niles Pond, Brace Cove, and Pebble Beach. I would love to know if anyone has seen them in Annisquam or Lanesville.

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thanks so much Greg for providing the link. I was wondering if the Winter Birding Weekend was taking place and good to know. Whoever did their web page did a nice job–very clear.

  8. Pingback: Birds of Cape Ann: Divers or Dabblers and the Green-winged Teal | GoodMorningGloucester

  9. Donna Foley says:

    Baffleheads have been at the Mill River inlet at The Mills. Washington St., Cpt. Hook’s

  10. Pingback: Birds of Cape Ann: The Majestic Mute Swan | GoodMorningGloucester

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