Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus L: 18″, WS: 24″ WT: 22.4 oz.
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola L: 13.5 WS: 21″ WT: 13 oz
For winter birding at Seabrook, I always look forward to the arrival of two of my favorite ducks….the Hooded Merganser and the Bufflehead. Both are winter visitors for us. On a quick look, the males of these species can look pretty similar, but they are quite different when studied closely. Both ducks have disproportionately large heads with white patches on the sides. But look carefully and you will see the differences.
The Hooded Merganser is one of our most beautiful ducks. The male “Hoodie” has striking white on the head , a black back and it’s sides are coffee brown with two black vertical lines, or “spurs,”that cut diagonally through the white breast. In courting behavior, which begins mid-winter, the males flare their crests, and the females “head-bob and pump.” The female is a chocolate brown and very plain, but I think very classy! When I was researching this article, one source online said “it looks like she blow dried her hair in a jet engine,”because of the swept back crest. HA!
Hoodies feed on crustaceans, fish and insects. They are about 18” long and one of the smaller ducks. On Seabrook, I most often see them on Jenkins Point (the first pond is a fav) and on Palmetto Lake. I am sure they are on many other ponds on the island. They usually arrive in November and leave in March.
The Bufflehead also has a striking male and a plain female. The male has a large head with a big white-wedge patch. It is a small (14″) squat duck and the head looks oversized. The remainder of the head looks black, but if you look carefully it is an iridescent green/purple. It is mostly found in coastal bays (the old cut area had 2 last week) but can also be found on lakes. The sides of the male are clear white, whereas the Hoodie is brown. The female is a plan gray/brown with a distinctive white patch on it’s cheek.
Buffleheads are usually found in the area of the old cut and the river, often close to the ocean. They feed on mollusks, crustaceans and insect larvae, diving frequently because of their very high metabolism. They are a “now you see it, now you don’t” kind of duck. When swimming, they bob up and down like little rubber duckies.
So keep your eye out for our very own feathered “snowbirds” on Seabrook this winter!
If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birders: Hooded Merganser
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birders: Bufflehead
Article submitted by: Aija Konrad 2016, resubmitted by SIB
Photographs provided by: Ed Konrad and Charles Moore
This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents. When possible we will use photographs taken by our members. Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.