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 –
Tag Archives: buffleheads
The smallest, and I think most would agree, among the cutest North American sea ducks, every autumn Buffleheads arrive on the shores of Cape Ann after having journeyed many thousands of miles from their summer breeding grounds in the Canadian boreal forests. They are seen in twos or in small groups and unlike most ducks, are monogamous. Some males begin courting very early in the season as demonstrated in the flock currently residing on Cape Ann however, the birds will not pair until spring.
When out for a walk along shore and pond, you may notice a great deal of bufflehead kerfuffling taking place. The male’s courtship displays are wonderfully exuberant, with much head pumping, chest thrusting, and aggressive flying. The male goes so far as to exaggerate the size of his head by puffing out his bushy crest. Occasionally, the males chase females, but most of the chasing is directed towards other males in territorial displays, which are accomplished by both flying and skidding across the water as well as via underwater chasing. The female encourages her suitor vocally and with a less animated head pumping motion.
Female Bufflehead, left and male Bufflehead, right
Buffleheads are diving ducks, finding nourishment on Cape Ann on small sea creatures and pond grasses, as well as seed heads at the shoreline’s edge.
By the early twentieth century Buffleheads were nearing extinction due to over hunting. Their numbers have increased although now their greatest threat is loss of habitat stemming from deforestation in the boreal forests and aspen parklands of Canada.
The word bufflehead is a corruption of buffalo-head, called as such because of their disproportionately large and bulbous head. Buffleheads are a joy to watch and are seen all around Cape Ann throughout the fall, winter, and early spring. Their old-fashioned name, “Butterball,” aptly describes these handsome and welcome winter migrants!
Listen for the Buffleheads mating vocalizations. The Bufflehead courtship scenes were filmed on Niles Pond. The end clip is of a flock of Buffleheads in flight and was shot at Pebble Beach, Rockport.
View standing on the flooded path, looking towards the Atlantic
OK technically it is a raft or paddling of buffleheads since they are in the water, but I just couldn’t pass up using badelynge (pronounced bad-ling), which refers a group of ducks on land. Buffleheads are my favorite little sea duck, and I have the pleasure of regularly seeing this group on Smiths Cove from my window.
Buffleheads have evolved their small size in order to fit into the nesting cavity of their “metabiotic” host, the Northern Flicker. Due to their small size, they are highly active, diving almost continuously. They do not tend to collect in large flocks; but are usually limited to small rafts. One duck will serve as a sentry, watching for predators as the others in the group dive in search of food. Buffleheads are among the last waterfowl to leave their breeding grounds and one of the world’s most punctual migrants, arriving on their wintering grounds within a narrow margin of time each year. Buffleheads are monogamous, and the females return to the same breeding site, year after year. (adapted from Wikipedia)
I saw this group of male and female Buffleheads along the backshore on Monday Feb. 18, 2013 . A lone Red-Breasted Merganser joins them while they feed 100 yards off shore.
Did you know that the Bufflehead, (a small diving duck, mostly white with glossy green-black to purple-black head and back), was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus, Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist. They nest almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers. Unlike many ducks, it is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years. A group of ducks has many collective nouns, including a “brace”, “flush”, “paddling”, “raft”, and “team” of ducks. Buffleheads are one of my favorite shorebirds and I watch for their arrival in late fall. They are little, very cute and have the coolest name. I don’t know if these are actually baffled, although they did look a little confused in the snow trying to find each other.