Photo: Ray Morris/Flickr Creative Commons

Bufflehead

Bucephala albeola

A diminutive diver, one of our smallest ducks, often very energetic in its feeding. Related to the goldeneyes and, like them, nests in cavities; but unlike other hole-nesting ducks, the Bufflehead is small enough to use unmodified old nest holes of Northern Flickers, giving it a ready source of good nest sites. Less sociable than most ducks, seen in pairs or small groups, almost never in large flocks. Takes wing easily from the water, flies with rapid wingbeats. The name "Bufflehead" is derived from "buffalo-head," for the male's odd puffy head shape.
Conservation status Evidently much less numerous now than historically, owing to unrestricted shooting early in 20th century and to loss of nesting habitat, but still fairly common and widespread. Current populations seem stable overall.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Lakes, ponds, rivers; in winter, salt bays. Preferred nesting habitat is around ponds and small lakes in rather open mixed coniferous and deciduous forest, also burned areas and aspen groves; less often in pure coniferous forest, near rivers or larger lakes. In winter on sheltered bays and estuaries, also on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers inland.
A diminutive diver, one of our smallest ducks, often very energetic in its feeding. Related to the goldeneyes and, like them, nests in cavities; but unlike other hole-nesting ducks, the Bufflehead is small enough to use unmodified old nest holes of Northern Flickers, giving it a ready source of good nest sites. Less sociable than most ducks, seen in pairs or small groups, almost never in large flocks. Takes wing easily from the water, flies with rapid wingbeats. The name "Bufflehead" is derived from "buffalo-head," for the male's odd puffy head shape.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • juvenile female,(1st year)
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly underwater. All the birds in a small flock may dive at same time. Rarely feeds with only head submerged.


Eggs

8-10, sometimes 6-12. Cream to pale buff. Incubation is by female, 29-31 days, sometimes 28-33. Young: leave nest 1-2 days after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. 2 broods may join, or young separated from one brood may join another. Age at first flight 50-55 days.


Young

leave nest 1-2 days after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. 2 broods may join, or young separated from one brood may join another. Age at first flight 50-55 days.

Diet

Varies with season and habitat. In summer and on fresh water feeds mainly on aquatic insects; on ocean feeds mainly on crustaceans. Also eats many mollusks (especially snails) in winter, and small amounts of plant material in fall.


Nesting

Males begin courtship displays by early winter, but most pairs form in spring. Displays of male include head-bobbing, wing-lifting, and short display flights, most with crest feathers fully raised. Nest site, chosen by female, is in tree cavity (especially old flicker holes), usually 2-10' above ground, sometimes up to 50'. Sometimes uses nest boxes. Same site may be used for several years. Lining of down is only nest material.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall; spring migration is protracted over long period. Overland migration, in small flocks, apparently occurs mostly at night.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall; spring migration is protracted over long period. Overland migration, in small flocks, apparently occurs mostly at night.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Male has a squeaky whistle; female, a soft, hoarse quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Diving Ducks Duck-like Birds

Bufflehead

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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