Buffleheads and Friends

Bufflehead – Male & Female

A buoyant, large-headed duck that abruptly vanishes and resurfaces as it feeds, the tiny Bufflehead spends winters bobbing in bays, estuaries, reservoirs, and lakes. Males are striking black-and white from a distance. A closer look at the head shows glossy green and purple setting off the striking white patch. Females are a subdued gray-brown with a neat white patch on the cheek. Bufflehead nest in old woodpecker holes, particularly those made by Northern Flickers, in the forests of northern North America.


I had never seen this water bird before a few weeks ago. My experience observing them has been so enjoyable. In my previous post I said that I would share pictures of them diving. It’s pretty incredible watching these birds mimic fish; the best of both: air and water!

When I first saw them dive into the water, I was surprised. They stay below the surface for a few seconds. They reminded me of little dolphins the way they dove into the water to forage for some food.

They are a common sight during the winter months in this area. Most of the time they are further out in the water, perhaps that’s where all their food is. I was only able to really capture them from a distance.

Until today. They were quite close to the shore, and with my 100mm lens, I was able to get closer shots of these cute little aquatic birds. I was able to capture the details I’ve been wanting to get. I could see the iridescence on the male’s head too! They were so close that I was actually able to see them as they swam under the water and come back to the surface! It was really exciting to have this close up look!

The title of this blog is “Buffleheads and Friends” – so I’m going to share some more images of birds I never knew existed, or never saw until a few weeks ago! First up, the Long-tailed Duck. They’re pretty impressive.

Long-tailed Ducks – Female
Long-tailed Ducks – Male

The attractive Long-tailed Duck breeds in the high Arctic and spends winters mostly along ocean coasts. The stunning males have two mirror-image plumages: in summer mostly black with a white face patch; in winter mostly white with rich brown, black, and gray on the face. In all plumages they have extravagantly long, slender tail feathers. Females and immatures are smudgy brown and white, without the long tail. These prodigious divers can feed as deep as 200 feet, swimming with their wings, catching invertebrates and small fish.


These ducks are usually out in the open waters. I would love to upgrade my equipment so I could capture close up shots to share with you. But, for now, this distanced view will have to do. Feel free to click on the images and zoom in a little!

Okay the next “Friend” is very special. It’s been a real treat to see this bird. Again, it’s from quite a distance that I see this one and my furthest zoom lens is only 100mm, not ideal for nature photography! But, we make do with what we have!

Snowy Owl

The regal Snowy Owl is one of the few birds that can get even non-birders to come out for a look. This largest (by weight) North American owl shows up irregularly in winter to hunt in windswept fields or dunes, a pale shape with catlike yellow eyes. They spend summers far north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings, ptarmigan, and other prey in 24-hour daylight. In years of lemming population booms they can raise double or triple the usual number of young.


In my research I read that females are usually spotty and males are all white, but young males are also spotty. So, I’m not really sure if this is a male or female. It’s beautiful! I wish my pictures did it justice! Today we saw it on the docks again, just perched there. It was quiet and no one was really around. While observing it through the binoculars, we heard it making a call. It was ‘magestical’.

The next few pictures are of a few other “friends” I’ve observed over the past two weeks.

Red-necked Grebe

Like other grebes, the Red-necked Grebe ingests large quantities of its own feathers. The stomach retains two distinct masses (balls) of feathers, and their function is unknown. One hypothesis suggests that the feathers help protect the lower digestive tract from bones and other hard, indigestible material. The Red-necked Grebe also feeds its feathers to its young.

Hooded Merganser and Mallard Duck
Buffleheads and Hooded Merganser

Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles.


This is a really long post, with some really special birds! I hope you have enjoyed looking at these images and maybe even learnt something new about these birds!


Thanks for viewing!

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