Bucephala albeola

  • Version: 2.0 — Published July 15, 2014
  • Gilles Gauthier

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Bufflehead distribution in North America.

Densities based on annual waterfowl breeding population surveys 1983–1992 (USFWS and CWS 1986, unpubl. data), except for British Columbia (Bellrose 1976).

Bufflehead, male; California, January.

Bolsa Chica, CA; January. Breeding (Alternate) plumage shown here. ; photographer Marie Reed

The Bufflehead, confined as a breeder to the boreal forest and aspen parkland of North America, is our smallest diving duck. Its small size has probably evolved with its habit of nesting in the holes of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), an abundant resource too small to accommodate other, larger cavity-nesting ducks. Bufflehead also nest in boxes, facilitating management of this species and studies of its reproductive biology. Territoriality probably limits the breeding density of this aggressive little duck, although lack of suitable nest cavities may also be a factor in many areas.

Bufflehead breeding habitat is dominated by ponds and small lakes, where the birds dive for insect larvae and amphipods. In winter, this is primarily a coastal, salt-water duck, feeding on crustaceans and molluscs in shallow water bays and inlets. Almost exclusively monogamous, this is one of the few ducks that often keeps the same mate for several years. Females are also faithful to their natal and breeding areas, often reusing the same nest site year after year.

Although Buffleheads are not prized among sport hunters, shooting is a significant factor in their mortality. They are nevertheless among the few species of ducks whose numbers have increased markedly since the mid-1950s.

Recommended Citation

Gauthier, G. (2014). Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.67