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My Life’s Birds: #340

September 16, 2009

November 5, 1994 – Table Rock Lake, Mo – The little diving duck known as the Bufflehead is so named because the unusual shape of its head suggests that of the American Bison, or so it did to the first people to lay eyes on it those many years ago.  The similarities end there, however.  The Bison is huge, the most massive land mammal on the continent, while the Bufflehead holds the distinction of being the smallest waterfowl.

Bucephala-albeola-007Perhaps because of it’s small stature, the Bufflehead prefers slightly smaller, shallower bodies of water than its closest relatives, the heftier Goldeneyes.  I’ve always associated Goldeneyes as birds of vast reservoirs.  To see them well requires standing in the cold with scopes trained on the far side of the lake, scanning for that flash of white. Buffleheads are much more accommodating.  One can enjoy them at leisure as they congregate in side ponds, or sewage treatment facilities, or, as with my first ones, in the overflow pond at the trout hatchery beneath the behemoth Table Rock Dam where they could pick through the effluence for discarded trout fry.

What the Bufflehead lacks in size, though, it more than makes up for in personality.  While winter for most birds is a season given over for simple survival, most ducks are busy laying the ground work for next year.  Which, for Buffleheads, involves lots of head bobbing, splashing about in an exaggerated fashion, and chasing erstwhile rivals.  All this so that the decisions as to the business of next years crop of Buffleheads is taken care of before the far too short boreal summer calls once again.  At the very least, it all makes for a nice winter morning for those who choose to watch.

Photo from wikipedia

  1. September 18, 2009 4:44 am

    Best duck in the entire world.

  2. Nate permalink*
    September 18, 2009 8:27 am

    @Jochen- Agreed. One of my perennial favorites.

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