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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the "Bufflehead"

May 31, 2016 01:36AM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach “Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the "Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)"

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Bryan Brillhart Photography

The Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is, a small American sea duck of the genus Bucephala, the goldeneyes. This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758. The

  Bufflehead ranges from 32–40 cm (13–16 in) long and 270–550 g (9.5–19.4 oz), with the drakes larger than the females, averaging 35.5 cm (14.0 in) and 370 g (13 oz). It rivals the green-winged teal as the smallest American duck. Adult males are striking black and white, with iridescent green and purple heads with a large white patch behind the eye. Females are grey-toned with a smaller white patch behind the eye and a light underside. The Bufflehead, a diminutive diver, and one of our smallest ducks, is often very energetic in its feeding.

They are related to the goldeneyes and, like them, they nest 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, they are seen in pairs or small groups, and almost never in large flocks. It takes wing easily from the water, flying with rapid wingbeats. The name "Bufflehead" is derived from "buffalo-head," for the male's odd puffy head shape. Populations are much less numerous now than they were historically, owing to unrestricted shooting early in 20th century and to loss of nesting habitat, but they are still fairly common and widespread. Current populations seem stable overall.

Bufflehead habitat is on lakes, ponds, and rivers; and in winter, on salt bays. Preferred nesting 

 habitat is around ponds and small lakes in rather open mixed coniferous and deciduous forest, and also burned areas and aspen groves; less often in pure coniferous forest, near rivers or larger lakes. In winter habitat is on sheltered bays and estuaries, and also on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers inland. Our Bufflehead population in the Tijuana Estuary is predominately in winter, and they have now migrated northward.

Foraging is mostly underwater by diving. All the birds in a small flock may dive at the same time. They rarely feed with only their head submerged. Diet varies with the season and habitat. In summer and on fresh water they feed mainly on aquatic insects; on the ocean they feed mainly on crustaceans. Buffleheads also eat 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 males include head-bobbing, wing-lifting, and short display flights, most with crest feathers fully raised. Nest site, chosen by the female, is in a tree cavity (especially old flicker holes), usually 2-10' above ground, sometimes up to 50'. They sometimes use nest boxes. The same site may be used for several years. A lining of down is only nest material.

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

You will have to wait until next winter to see Buffleheads in the Estuary since they have migrated northward by now, but there are always new species arriving throughout all seasons of the year. Enjoy a walk or bike ride on the many trails there. Until next week, happy birding!


Bryan Brillhart

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