Bufflehead are winter residents of the Lowcountry

These black and white butterballs are here in pretty big numbers in the winter, and I love to watch the way they dive and pop right up like little corks.

Like many birds, it’s the males that steal the show, with gorgeous iridescent black/green/purple highlights around a wedge-shaped white spot behind the eye.  Like Hooded Mergansers, they are diving ducks, but they only stay down for 15 seconds or so, bouncing to the surface and riding much higher in the water than the mergansers do.  The thin black mark on the top doesn’t have stripes, and the sides of bright white are also ways to distinguish this duck from a merganser.

Side by side comparison

These ducks might be found foraging together and the females are easily identified by the white cheek spots.  Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the males.  The Hooded Merganser is a bigger duck: 18 inches long with a 24 inch wingspan compared to the 13.5 inch Bufflehead with a 21 inch wingspan.