Since the food of the bufflehead duck is almost all animal, it is not sought after by hunters to the same degree as most other ducks.
It is a beautiful little bird, presenting flashes of black and white in flight and on the water. Smaller than most ducks yet larger than the teal, they are seen in broken flocks, usually not too high above the water. Like the old squaws, they feed in platoons, always reserving a few ducks above the water for danger lookouts. They seem to be able to alternate feeders and watchers in quite a regulated rhythm.
The main identifying feature of the bufflehead is the large white patch on the head, readily distinguishable from the little spot worn by the goldeneye. The head is semi-crested. The neck and breast are white, the wings black, except for a small section of white.
They become quite frightened when approached and are very active when feeding or playing. They constantly duck, fan their wings and take off in small flights over the water, to return again to the same spot. Their flight in singles or pairs is quite direct unless they sense danger. They can take off from the water with surprising ease, since they are of the diving duck variety, which usually has to fight gravity during the forward take-off. They ride high on the water and are perky, quick moving and lively.
When they dive they are as adept as the grebes and mergansers, holding the wings in close to the body. They can stay underwater quite a time, and swim away from danger quickly that way.
They belong to the small group of tree-nesting ducks and their eggs are laid in abandoned flicker nests and other tree holes. Only when forced by circumstance will they nest on the ground, and even then will try and build in a bush if there is one handy.
Their distribution is wide, the only blank in the map being the central Midwest. They nest as far north as southern Alaska and down into Ontario and west to the Pacific. Their southern home overlaps in Oregon and Washington and they are found as far south as the Mexican border and the Gulf States, skipping Florida for the most part.
Their migration takes place in the middle of the fall and they fly north just as soon as the ice is gone in the northern lakes. Their habits are similar to the goldeneye.
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