by Larry Czajkoski
The Buffles are back!!! The Bufflehead is one of the smallest ducks in North America and one of my absolute favorite birds. The adult male has a large puffy head, steep forehead, and short bill. He is glossy black above with metallic tints, white below, with a large white patch running from the lower cheeks over the top of head. The female, and young male, is duller, with small, elongated white patch on each side of head.
These little ducks travel in groups of a dozen or less. They are divers (not dabblers, like the Mallard) and when diving for their food, some of the company are always on guard at the surface, for the feeding birds may remain under water for twenty seconds at a time. The arrival of the Bufflehead is a sure sign winter is coming as this bird is not seen in North Carolina until November. It prefers to linger in the north until driven from its Canadian summer habitat by the freezing of the inland waters. I photographed this adult male on a pond in Lake Lure in early December. Buffleheads nest in woodlands near small lakes and ponds. This bird is fairly easily identified, but be quiet and stealth-like when approaching these ducks for a closer look as they tend to scare easily and wonder away from the shoreline.