Birds of Cape Ann: Buffleheads

Next time you see a flock of ducks, look closely. You may be surprised by the range of  different species within the group. Although not always the case, but more often than not at this time of year, I see several species within a flock. What typically happens as I try to get closer to photograph or film a flock of shore birds, the Mallards, which seem very comfortable around people will stay and the somewhat less seen species, such as Buffleheads, Gadwalls, and American Wigeons will fly away.

Buffleheads, gulls Brace Cove ©Kim Smith 2014 I counted six different species of birds feeding in the seaweed at Brace Cove in the above photo.

This past autumn, and continuing through this winter, I have been filming and photographing B roll all around the ponds and marshes of Cape Ann. Today begins a mini series about shore birds, ducks, and wading birds, including photos and interesting facts, to help better identify the differences between the ducks and wading birds that migrate through, and winter over, on Cape Ann.

One of several Cape Ann geographical features that allows for such a wonderfully wide range of birds to be found on our shores and marshes is the fact that we lie within a largely unrestricted north south corridor for migratory species of birds and butterflies. What exactly does that mean? From the eastern coastline, all the way from Maine to Florida, and between the Appalachian Mountain range further west is a corridor where there are no barriers such as large bodies of water or mountains to fly over, which allows for unrestricted movement of birds and butterflies.

Male and Female buffflerheads ©Kim Smith 2014Male and Female Buffleheads

Male Buffleheads are one of the easiest birds to distinguish from a distance and within a group because of their sharp black and white coloring, comparatively smaller size, and pert, rounded shape. Upon closer inspection the males heads are marked with striking iridescent green and purplish feathers. The photo above shows three males and one female, and she is differentiated by her all over darker color and the patch of white feathers on her check. Rapid wingbeats make Buffleheads easier to distinguish when in flight as well. Their old-fashioned name of “Butterballs” aptly describes these beautiful and welcome winter migrants!

I am by no means a bird expert. I love to film and photograph the natural world around us and along the way find it fascinating to learn about the wildlife and flora that surrounds. Note to all GMG nature and bird-loving readers ~  I hope you’ll comment with your expertise. We would love to hear from you!

23 thoughts on “Birds of Cape Ann: Buffleheads

  1. I love Buffleheads. So unique looking. I’ve been out a lot this season with Atticus (my son), checking out all the cool winter birds–including the snowy owls we’ve seen lately. We’re about to start a birding blog for homeschool project for Atticus. What a great place to live!


    1. What a great project for you and Atticus!!! Perfect age, and you must be having so much fun with it–actually all ages are great for learning about and finding inspiration in nature.


  2. Excellent shots here! You are right the birds that are more used to humans tend to feel safer and some times these may even been domesticated ducks that escaped – from owner (Remember the Great Escape Steve McQueen the cooler King-Freedom short lived) .

    Thanks Dave 🙂


  3. That’s quite a congenial gathering of waterfowl there: mallards, buffleheads, herring gulls, a black-backed gull, a merganser, and who are the two little guys in the left foreground? Any ideas?


      1. You can find rafts of female eiders just offshore in Manchester and Magnolia, while Gloucester harbor is full of males. If they could only read this, we’d be up to our eyeballs in eiders!


  4. I’ve been told that there are more birds on Cape Ann in winter than in summer. BTW the Chamber of Commerce will be running the Winter Birding Weekend again this year, a great chance to see the birds, bus tours guided by experts, lectures, etc.


    1. You are welcome Meg. I am finding them in so many places this year: the salt marsh at Good Harbor, Gloucester Harbor, Niles Pond, Brace Cove, and Pebble Beach. I would love to know if anyone has seen them in Annisquam or Lanesville.


    1. Thanks so much Greg for providing the link. I was wondering if the Winter Birding Weekend was taking place and good to know. Whoever did their web page did a nice job–very clear.


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