A Bufflehead is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify Buffleheads. We have also put together a list of fun Bufflehead t-shirts, Bufflehead bird patches, birdhouses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers, and other fun bird-watching items.
The Bufflehead’s name is a combination of “buffalo” and “head” that highlights its globular head shape. The Bufflehead is a small sea duck that can be found predominantly on both the east and west coast of North America and the southern United States.
Description and Identification
Bufflehead is the smallest diving duck in North America. It is 11-15 inches in length with a wingspan of
22 inches and usually weighs less than a pound. The male has a white chest, belly, and sides. He has a
black back and a black head with a greenish and purplish shine. He has a large white patch that covers
the back half of its head. The female has a light brownish-black back, a gray belly and sides, and a small
white patch on her cheek. Both the male and female have a short neck and a small, narrow gray bill. The
bufflehead was first called the buffalo head because of the male’s large domed head.
Bufflehead Color Pattern
Adult male Buffleheads have a white body, black back, and a dark head with a large white patch that wraps around the back of the head. Females have a gray-brown plumage and distinctive white oval-shaped cheek patch. When in flight adult male Bufflehead spots a white patch on its upper wing; for the female bird, its white wing patch significantly smaller.
Some approximate measurements for both sexes are:
- Length 12.6-15.8 in (32-40cm)
- Weight 9.6-22.4 oz (272-635g)
- Wingspan 21.6 in (55cm)
- Buffleheads are diving birds that go underwater to catch aquatic invertebrates.
- When courting their female counterparts, male Buffleheads swim in front of them, rapidly bobbing their heads up and down.
The bufflehead’s diet varies seasonally and by habitat. When visiting the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the
bufflehead eats a variety of seeds, aquatic plants, and small animals, including insects, dragonflies, damn
selfies, and their larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. They also feed on submerged vegetation including the seeds of pondweeds and bulrushes. Ducklings eat aquatic insects. It dives for its prey and
swallows it as a whole even though it is still underwater.
When they dive for their food, sometimes forming small flocks in which some birds dive in search of
food, while others stand guard, alert for possible dangers. A dive may last about 12.5 seconds. They
swallow their prey underwater.
Their diet varies with season and habitat. In summer and on freshwater, Buffleheads feed mainly on aquatic insects; in the ocean, they feed mainly on crustaceans. Also, they eat many mollusks (especially snails) in winter and small amounts of plant material in fall.
Buffleheads primarily live on open waters and adjacent wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal
rivers. They can also be found living on farmlands, grasslands, lakes, and ponds throughout the Bay
watershed. In the summer these ducks prefer small lakes and ponds with surrounding woodlands of
aspen and poplar trees. In the winter they may be found inland in ponds, small lakes, and rivers, and in
coastal marine environments in protected waters such as sheltered coves, lagoons, bays, and estuaries.
Buffleheads are most widespread in migration and winter when they move south to coasts and large bodies of water, particularly shallow saltwater bays. They breed near lakes in northern forests where conifers mix with poplars or aspens. Buffleheads nest in tree cavities, especially old Northern Flicker holes.
Range and Migration
The Bufflehead is found from Alaska east to Quebec, Canada, and south in the mountains from
Washington to Montana during the breeding season.
The main migration to wintering areas begins in late October. Buffleheads travel and generally remain in
small flocks of 5-10 birds, but can occasionally gather into groups of as many as 50, and, in fall, flocks of
up to 500 birds have been recorded. The majority of the population winters on the Atlantic coast, from
southern Newfoundland to southern Florida; and on the Pacific coast, from the northern tip of the
The Aleutian Islands to Mexico.
Bufflehead Life Cycle
They lay approximately 8-10 eggs. Incubation is by the female, 29-31 days. The young leave the nest 1-2 days after hatching and are led to water by females. Age at first flight is 50-55 days.
They live an estimated 2.5 years for males and 2.3 years for females.
June and July in their North American Range. Buffleheads are cavity nesters, typically using old burrows
of woodpeckers or other burrows when available. They are monogamous, with birds often returning to
the same nesting location year after year. The female lays between 7 and 10 eggs, and she alone
incubates them. The eggs hatch after about 4 weeks. The young leave the nest only a day after hatching
and maybe tended to by the female as they grow, but the young find their own food.
Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes
At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.
Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Buffleheads
The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Buffleheads are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.
If you love the Bufflehead you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.
Bufflehead Iron On Patches
Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.
The Bufflehead is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.
Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Bufflehead. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.
Bird Feeders for Buffleheads
There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.
Best Bird Houses for Buffleheads
There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.