Description of the Bufflehead


The Bufflehead is a very small diving duck with a large white patch on its head. Males have a white breast and flanks, black upperparts, a purplish-black face, and large white area on the rear of the head.



Females have brownish flanks and darker brown upperparts, and a brown head with a white oval behind the eye.


Seasonal change in appearance

Males in nonbreeding plumage are duller.


The immature Bufflehead is similar to the adult female.


Buffleheads inhabit lakes, rivers, and ponds, as well as salt bays in winter.


Buffleheads eat insects, crustaceans, and mollusks.


The Bufflehead dives to forage.


Buffleheads occur throughout most of the U.S. and southern Canada, breeding mostly in southern Canada and wintering across a broad swath of the western, south-central, and eastern U.S. The population appears stable.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Bufflehead.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History


Fun Facts

Buffleheads are small enough to use old Northern Flicker cavities, something the larger goldeneyes are unable to do.

Female Buffleheads sometimes lay eggs in other females’ nests, particularly if few cavities are available.


Buffleheads are generally silent.


The Bufflehead’s nest is within a tree cavity or in a nest box.

Number: Usually lay 8-10 eggs.

Color: Pale buff in color.

Incubation and fledging:

The young hatch at about 29-31 days and leave the nest within a day or two after hatching, but are not fledged for about 8-9 weeks.