BUFFLEHEAD – (Bucephala albeola)
The Bufflehead is a small diving duck belonging to the same family as the Goldeneye. It owes its name (both English and Latin) to the shape of its large head, and ‘albeola’ refers to the white color.
The drake indeed has a large white patch at the back of the head, starting from the eye. The rest of the head, face and neck are iridescent green and purple. The eye is dark. The back is black, and the sides and under parts white. The wings start with black near the body, then have a white narrow band, more black and a large white band, ending with dark grey. The tail is grey. The bill is grey and the legs and feet are pink. Females have a dark brown head with a small white patch on the side under the eye, a black back and tail, and grey sides and under parts. There are two small white patches on the wings. The bill is grey and the eyes are dark. The legs and feet are pinkish grey. This diving duck measures around 35 cm (14 in.), and males are slightly larger than females.
Bufflehead ducks choose tree cavities to build their nests, with a distinct preference for Northern Flicker holes. For this reason they will also be attracted to nest boxes specifically built to meet their needs. As opposed to many other duck species, this one is generally monogamous.
They inhabit various bodies of shallow fresh or salt water, such as river estuaries, lakes, reservoirs, ponds or bays, but near appropriate woodland. They forage under water for insects, crustaceans, molluscs, vegetation and fish eggs.
The bufflehead does not breed on PEI and its occurrence on the island varies according to the seasons, from rare to fairly common, except in the summer when there’s not been any sightings so far, and for good reason – they breed in Alaska or in the northern Canadian forests, migrate through the country and USA, and spend the winter along the coasts, and also in the southern part of the USA and Mexico.
Conservation: the bufflehead population appears stable overall, however there is some loss of habitat due to clear-cutting in its breeding range, which removes nesting opportunities, and also clearing of its preferred forest for agriculture. They are also hunted at the rate of a quarter million in Canada and the USA, but this is within current regulations.