They came by night. Sunday evening at sunset I counted maybe a dozen. This morning, as the sun cleared the low cloud bank, well over a hundred and possibly twice that many populated the waters of the North Basin. At least three flocks of them strung out along the whole basin from south to north. With those patches, streaks, and spots of white, plus their repeated and largely synchronized diving, they’re easy to identify at a distance. Mixed in with the mob of Buffleheads I thought I also saw a Scaup or two, see pic below, but not more than a handful. They, too, will arrive in large numbers one of these days, if past habits hold.
Bufflehead are ducks but their nesting behavior resembles that of woodpeckers. The Cornell bird lab web site runs these “Cool Facts” about these birds:
- “The Bufflehead nests almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers.
- Unlike most ducks, the Bufflehead is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years.
- Bufflehead fossils from the late Pleistocene (about 500,000 years ago) have been found in Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. One California fossil that resembles a modern Bufflehead dates to the late Pliocene, two million years ago.
- Bufflehead normally live only in North America, but in winter they occasionally show up elsewhere, including Kamchatka, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Belgium, France, Finland, and Czechoslovakia. In some of these cases, the birds may have escaped from captivity.
- The oldest Bufflehead on record was at least 18 years and 8 months old. It was caught and re-released by a bird bander in New York in 1975.”