Spring is finally here and the early birds are on their way north. Among them are bufflehead ducks whose body shape and courtship behavior would earn them a different name if they needed one today.
Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) are small black and white ducks that nest in tree cavities from western Quebec to Alaska. Males are striking black and white, females mostly black, and they’re named buffleheads — “buffalo heads” — because the male’s head looks large and out of scale for his size.
Watch the video above and you’ll see three males “use their heads” to impress the lone female. They are bobbing like crazy! Apparently, the bigger the bob the better.
There’s even more going on. Here’s a list of courtship displays quoted from Cornell’s Birds of North America Online.
- Head-bobbing is the most common.
- Fly-over and Land (not seen in the video): The male flies over the female and lands close to her, skiing on water to show off his feet, raising his head feathers to show off his head.
- Head-shake-forward: After landing the male tosses his head forward and …
- Wing-lift: … and raises his wings high behind his head.
- Leading and Following are done by established pairs. “The male leads by swimming vigorously with the neck stretched upwards, sometimes pecking to the side, and the female usually responds by a Following Display, in which she swims or runs on the surface to catch up with the male, her neck extended, and vocalizes.”
So this lady has a mate (he’s Leading) but it doesn’t stop the other two guys from making a pass. When one of them is particularly persistent she chases him away but he’s not convinced until her mate chases, too.
Buffleheads court while on migration so you’ll see this behavior on nearby lakes and rivers this month.
Do they make you think of buffaloes when you see their heads?
Nope. If we had to name them today, we’d call them bobbleheads.
(video by winterwren3 on YouTube)