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  • Writer's pictureTerry Wise

Not Bobbleheads - Buffleheads!

Yes, these ducks were bobbing up and down on Carillon Stonegate Pond. This small black-and-white duck was on the surface one minute and gone the next.

These ducks were Bufflehead ducks.

They are a small, chubby duck. Male Buffleheads have a white body and underbelly, black back, and a large, dark head with a large white patch. However, up close, you can see the glossy, iridescent green and purple coloring of their head. This sets off their distinguishing large white patch which extends from the nape of the neck to the crown of the head. Males have blue-gray bills and pink webbed feet. Female Buffleheads are a subdued gray-brown with a neat white patch on the cheek.

Buffleheads are active ducks. They spend their time preening, swimming, diving, perching, flying, and foraging. Buffleheads dive to hunt; typically swallowing their food while still underwater. During feeding, they are quite active, typically staying on the surface only twelve (12) seconds or so before diving again. They will stay underwater on average about ten to twenty seconds.

Buffleheads are native to North America. Their summer breeding range includes central Alaska and extends across southern Canada. Bufflehead that breed west of the Rockies migrate to the Pacific Coast, while those that breed in central Canada migrate east to the Atlantic coast or south as far as the Gulf Coast. These Buffleheads must be heading back north to Canada.

Unlike most ducks and geese that nest along the shores of our ponds, Buffleheads are “secondary-cavity nesters.” They nest almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers; typically, ten feet or more above the ground.

Here are some other interesting items:

  • 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.

  • Unlike most ducks, the Bufflehead is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years.

  • The oldest known Bufflehead lived almost 18 years; although their lifespan averages less than 3 years.

  • Bufflehead fossils from the late Pleistocene (about 500,000 years ago) have been found in several states, including Illinois.

The ponds, tall reeds and grasslands and woodlands around Carillon Stonegate Pond teem with birds and other wildlife - some permanent residents, some temporary visitors. Visit Life on CSG Pond. With Spring here and our Summer ahead, take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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