Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)


The bufflehead is the smallest diving or sea duck in North America. The name buffalo head or "bufflehead" is a direct reference to the duck's large-headed appearance. These ducks are strikingly beautiful. The male is black and white with a large white patch extending from the eye to the back of the head. The female is dark brown above, paler below and has a small white cheek patch. The male is slightly larger than the female.

Life History

The bufflehead is a diver and unlike other diving ducks can take flight from water without having to run along the surface. Buffleheads typically eat aquatic insects, snails, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Buffleheads usually are seen in small groups. As one or two feed, the others will stand watch for potential danger.

These ducks nest in tree cavities, especially old flicker holes. The female returns every year to the area of her birth and lays one egg each morning for six to 11 days, some time between mid-April and May. She alone incubates the eggs for 28 to 33 days.

Meanwhile, as the females are busy brooding the hatchlings and coaxing them to the water, the males are "summering" separately on bufflehead molting ground. The female and young finally are reunited with the males once the hatchlings learn to fly, about seven to eight weeks after they hatch.


Buffleheads live by lakes, rivers and bays. As winter nears, buffleheads migrate to coastal waters.


Most buffleheads breed in the northwestern part of North America, migrating to the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts as far south as Mazatlan in the winter. They travel to breeding grounds in Alaska and western Canada in February, March and April.


Texas holds the record for the largest winter count of buffleheads of any state.The average number found in Texas, both on the coast and in the interior, has been recorded at 4,300.