|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.|
Forages mostly underwater. All the birds in a small flock may dive at same time. Rarely feeds with only head submerged.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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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
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsMale has a squeaky whistle; female, a soft, hoarse quack.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Bufflehead
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Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Bufflehead
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.