Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bufflehead

This female Bufflehead in the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC reminded me of my first discovery of this species. I was in high school, and the Hooded Merganser had become a nemesis species for me. No matter how hard I searched, I could not add the merganser to my life list. I did find a female Bufflehead in a local pond. Did the white stripe on the head indicate a Hooded Merganser? After some agony, I concluded I had yet to find a Hooded Merganser—the white stripe was just too low on the head. Look at the up-turned tail on this photo. Beginning birders might take this posture for a Ruddy Duck.

The Reflecting Pool, a shallow, cement-lined, shallow, rectangular lake between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, seems like an unlikely habitat for diving ducks. What could the ducks find to eat? They search for insect larvae, amphipods, and other small arthropods. The Reflecting Ponds seemed to be fairly sterile, but NBC news reports that, despite a $34 million renovation, the Reflecting Pools are full of algae, which must support enough arthropods to keep the Buffleheads fed.

We encountered a Bufflehead pair in the pool. Buffleheads are monogamous and are among just a few ducks that maintain the same mate for several years. Buffleheads are often shot by hunters, but populations have increased since the 1950s (Gauthier 1993). Also in the pool dove a half-dozen Lesser Scaup, photos of which I will share in a future post.

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