Tag Archives: Bucephala albeola

OLDSQUAWS, GOLDENEYES, SCOTERS, AND MORE BEAUTIFUL DUCKS MIGRATING RIGHT NOW ON OUR SHORES! -By Kim Smith

The beautiful collection of ducks currently migrating along our shores could also be called ‘A Study in Black and White,’ with a touch of orange, too.

Common Goldeneye

Swimming inshore with the diminutive, albeit more ubiquitous, Buffleheads are Common Goldeneyes. Both sea ducks are members of the Bucephala genus; their name is derived from the ancient Greek word boukephalos, which means bullheaded and is in reference to their bulbously-shaped heads. During courtship rituals, male members of the Bucephala genus puff out their head feathers, making them appear even more buffalo-headed.

How can you tell the two apart when side by side? Goldeneyes are larger than Buffleheads and they have a circular white patch on their cheek, behind the bill.

Female (left) and Male Buffleheads

The name Oldsquaw was once used to describe the Long-tailed Duck but has fallen out favor in deference to Native American tribes.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has re-vamped their website. From here you can read more about Long-tailed Ducks, but I thought the following was particularly interesting while learning how to distinguish the different plumages.  “Unlike most ducks, which molt twice per year, the Long-tailed Duck has three distinct plumages each year, achieved in a complex series of overlapping partial molts. The Definitive Basic Plumage is never worn in its entirety, as portions of Alternate are retained through the summer and elements of the Supplemental are acquired before all of Basic Plumage is obtained. Therefore change in plumage seems continuous from April to October. Unlike other waterfowl, the Long-tailed Duck wears its “breeding” or Alternate Plumage only in the winter. It gets its “nonbreeding” or Basic Plumage in the spring and wears it for the breeding season. Most other ducks wear the nonbreeding plumage only for a short period in the late summer.”

Male and Female Long-tailed Ducks in nonbreeding plumage.

Male and Female Surf Scoters

The male Surf Scoter’s well-defined stark white patches against ebony feathers lends this sea duck its common name, “Skunk-headed Coot.” But it is the scoter’s bulbous-at-the-base orange, black and white patterned bill that I find interesting and almost comical. The female is a plainer dull blackish-brownish with light colored patches, one behind each eye and at the base of the bill.

The number of, and locations of, Brant Geese appear to be increasing as they are readying for the long migration to the Arctic breeding grounds. Brants migrate the greatest distance of any North American goose.Brant breakfast. 

A lone Canada Goose joined the scene for a moment, but his presence was not welcome by the Brants. His appearance provided a terrific opportunity though to compare the size difference between the Brant and the Canada Goose. You can see in the photo below, the Brant is quite a bit smaller, but that didn’t prevent one from chasing away the Canada Goose.

Canada Goose in the background, Brant Goose in the foreground.

Bye bye Canada Goose

Male and Female Common Goldeneyes and Harbor Seals

THEY’RE BACK! BEAUTIFUL CAPE ANN WINTER SHOREBIRDS

Hello winter friends! As the herons, egrets, and plovers have departed for parts warmer, Cape Ann welcomes mergansers, buffleheads, grebes, and so many more. Overcast morning walk along the shores of Niles Pond –

male-female-red-breasted-mergansers-copyright-kim-smithMale and Female Red-breasted Mergansers

pied-billed-grebe-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithJuvenile Pied-billed Grebe

male-bufflehead-female-red-breasted-merganser-copyright-kim-smithMale Buffleheads and Female Red-breasted Merganser

brace-cove-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBrace Rock

HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMMON EIDERS AND BUFFLEHEADS

Common Eider Bufflehead ©Kim Smith 2016Male Common Eider (center) with Male Buffleheads

Last week a reader wrote asking how to tell the difference between Buffleheads and Common Eiders. Both males of the species are black and white and both frequent our shores during the winter months. The easiest difference is that the Eiders are much larger, about 25 to 27 inches, while Buffleheads are about half the size of an Eider, only measuring 11-15 inches in length. Common Eiders are the largest diving duck in North America; the Bufflehead the smallest diving duck.

Common Eider Male ©Kim Smith 2015Eiders have a long sloping bill and move rather slowly.

Male female buffleheads ©Kim Smith 2016

Male and Female (right) Buffleheads

Buffleheads are sprightly and butterball shaped. From a distance the male Bufflehead looks striking, appearing black and white. Up close, the head feathers are a stunning iridescent purple and green. Both Eiders and Buffleheads can be seen feeding all along the Massachusetts coastline during the winter months. Buffleheads inhabit fresh water ponds and salt water whereas Common Eiders are sea ducks. During the summer breeding season, Common Eiders are found across Alaska and Canada all the way south to our region, whereas Buffleheads breed in the boreal forests and aspen parklands of Canada and Alaska.

I am sure you’ve heard of eiderdown pillows and quilts. The eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast to line the nest, can be collected sustainably and safely after the ducklings leave the nest. Eiderdown has been largely replaced by down from farm raised geese.

Common Eider female ©Kim Smith 2015Female Common Eider

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!