Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Bufflehead - Bucephala albeola
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General Comments The male Bufflehead is one of our most attractive ducks. Thankfully for birders, the species is a common winter resident of coastal waters, being especially numerous on Pamlico Sound and other nearby shallow bays and embayed rivers. The species also is numerous on freshwater lakes, ponds, and impoundments both coastally and inland, though it can be a bit local at many areas well inland. Birds can also be seen in flight over the inshore ocean, though few winter on the ocean except for the Fort Fisher/Kure Beach area, where there are both exposed and submerged rocks.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Common to locally abundant on Pamlico Sound, and nearby waters such as the embayed portions of Pamlico and Neuse rivers. Elsewhere along the coast, common along the northern coast, and fairly common to common on the southern coast; can occurs in large numbers on some impoundments (such as at Pea Island), as well as on various lakes and ponds in the Tidewater area. Farther inland, somewhat local and restricted, as habitat is more limited, but fairly common to locally common; can occur on small bodies of water, such as borrow pit ponds and farm ponds. Mainly early Nov to late Apr; a few summer records from coastal regions, though one far inland on Pinehurst Lake (Moore) on 29 May 2023 was very unusual and late. Peak counts: 3,000, Pamlico Sound near Mouse Harbor (Pamlico), 12 Feb 1988; 2,500, Pea Island NWR, winter of 1940-41.
Piedmont Winter resident. Uncommon to fairly common, though common in a very few areas. Favors larger reservoirs, but also found on smaller lakes and ponds. Mostly early Nov to late Mar. One was notable at Lake James (Burke) on 26 Jun 2020. Peak counts: 226, Jordan Lake, 5 Dec 1995.
Mountains Winter visitor or resident. Generally rare to locally uncommon, mostly in the lower elevations of the southern mountains. Mainly early Nov to early Apr. Peak counts: ?
Finding Tips This species is easy to find on most of the ferry runs near the coast, and it is also found on lakes and ponds across the state. The coastal NWR's have moderate numbers wintering on lakes and impoundments, especially those at Pea Island.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2020-10-20]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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