River talk

The black and white ducks of fall

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 12/15/21

If you regularly visit area lakes, you may have noticed a very small duck that wasn’t here during summer or early fall. Black and white and rather small, they would have appeared around …

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River talk

The black and white ducks of fall

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If you regularly visit area lakes, you may have noticed a very small duck that wasn’t here during summer or early fall. Black and white and rather small, they would have appeared around Halloween; they will stay until the lake ices over. These ducks have arrived from their Canadian breeding grounds to spend the winter in the U.S.

The bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is the duck of the day around this time of year. It is one of the smallest diving ducks in North America.  It is black and white in color and it flies with very fast wingbeats, often just above the water.

Buffleheads have a wingspan of about two feet and weigh about a pound. They dive to about 15 feet and prefer shallow lakes or rivers; the bufflehead feeds on small insects, snails, and other small animals found on a lake or river bottom.

Like many species of ducks, the male bufflehead has more conspicuous plumage; a large white spot wraps around the back of the head, starting and ending just behind each eye. Around the spot are dark feathers that appear black, but in the sunlight are faintly iridescent. The wings are dark and provide a striking contrast to the white body. Females are dark with grey sides, dark wings, and a small spot on the back of the head.

These tiny ducks will stick around until the ice arrives. Smaller lakes and flatwater sections of the river are good places to find buffleheads, along with other fall species of waterfowl that may be around. Binoculars and spotting scopes are good to have, as the buffleheads seem to be shy of people standing or walking near the shore.

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