Bufflehead     Bucephala albeola



The Bufflehead is one of the smallest ducks in North America weighing just over a pound and around 13.5 inches long.  It is frequently seen in small groups in the bays around Puget Sound.  Along with other sea ducks, Buffleheads are members of the diving duck group that swim below the water to catch prey or feed on plants.  The brilliant black and white plumage of the sides and head of the male allows identification of this species from a great distance.  The females and first-winter males are darker colored with a white cheek patch.  The name apparently comes from shape of the male's head which reminded early biologists of a buffalo's head.


While in marine waters the birds feed mainly on the bottom catching small crustaceans such as shrimp, crab and amphipods as well as small snails and other mollusks.  


Buffleheads spend the winter in marine bays and estuaries as well as freshwater lakes from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast.  There small groups of males and females spend active days feeding and courting.  The males defend females by rushing at other males on the surface or after diving under them.  The courtship display consists of a series of rapid head-bobs and then a short flight.


Breeding occurs in freshwater lakes mainly in northern Canada.  A clutch of between 7 to 11 eggs are usually laid in old woodpecker nests dug in trees.  Incubation lasts 30 days with the young being led to the water by the female within 24 hours of hatching.  Young are eaten by a variety of predators while the adults are taken by weasels, mink and various hawks, falcons and owls including the Bald Eagle.