By Dan Kirk
In search for information on the Bufflehead duck, I came across links from the Tennessee Watchable Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife, San Juan Island National Historic Park Service, Saint Louis Zoo, Outdoor Alabama, Monterey Bay Aquarium and many more from different cities and states. Just from the list of websites google search webpages, I gathered that the Bufflehead duck population spreads from coast to coast, very similar to the spread of coyotes, which I wrote about last month. Although Bufflehead ducks can be spotted across the U.S., they do not stay in the same place all year round; ‘tis the season to find them in salty California bay waters.
In the Bay Area, starting now (October) through March, you will likely see this petite waterfowl hanging out and diving for food, mainly mollusks and crustaceans. In fact, just the other day at the Jack London Square Marina, I managed to kayak by a few Buffleheads myself. The males have a white triangle patch stretching from eye to eye around the back of their heads. With a large head and a small beak, they are dubbed “bufflehead” because their head mimics that of a buffalo, apparently. At the right angle, you can catch some purple/green iridescence on their neck and face. Females, who also have a big head, are brown with a small distinct white patch on their cheeks. I saw a couple of females, they were heading from sailboat to sailboat, from Sea Breeze to Tuna. Be sure to keep an eye out for these ducks, in almost any shoreline in the Bay Area, and even in Lake Merritt.
Moving past winter and heading into spring and summer, they migrate north to the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, and nest mostly in aspens and poplars near ponds or marshes. They are small enough to nest in cavities made by Northern Flickers, and we know this because that is what they do. The majority of the nests are very high, typically over 40 feet and some over 65 feet, and when the ducklings hatch out of their shells, they only wait 1 day before they take a “leap of faith” from their nest (feel free to use Youtube as a reference, it’s very cute) to the ground. Although this may seem risky, they are so light that they hit the ground and bounce to their feet. Inspired by daredevil ducklings, I’d say if someone were to ask what superpower I want, I could say to fly, but I think I’d rather be able to jump from anywhere and bounce to my feet. The world is your oyster…or trampoline.
Please enjoy reading about another winterfowl, the Lesser Scaup, in our Ebb and Flow here!