Buff Migrants

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

A few scattered Bufflehead arrived here some days ago. Now they’ve formed up into a tight flock of about ten, more males than females. When I saw them they were foraging energetically, spending about as much time on their dives as paddling on the surface. They have a reputation for synchronized diving, and I saw a sample or two of that, with all of them underwater at the same time. But at other times some vanished under water while others cruised on above. They’re mainly carnivores, looking for shrimp, snails, clams, worms and the like; they’ll take little fish if they can catch them.

These birds probably flew in by night from Alaska. They breed in large numbers there, as well as in northwestern and central Canada, with a few breeding sites scattered elsewhere. Their breeding requirements are very specific. Much in the way that Burrowing Owls depend on Ground Squirrels or Prairie Dogs for their nesting sites, the Bufflehead depend on the Northern Flicker. The flicker is a large woodpecker — one of them visited the park recently (“New 2Me Bird,” 9/30/21). It hacks holes in aspen, poplars, and similar softwoods for its own nest. Those holes are hotly desired by some other species, not only Bufflehead, but Goldeneye, starlings, bluebirds and swallows. It’s said that the flicker habitually reuses its nests year after year. Yet in some areas, there are numerous vacancies. Somehow the Bufflehead mom-to-be finds enough unoccupied flicker holes to maintain and even increase the population.

Male Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

More about Bufflehead: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon In Chavez Park

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