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Bufflehead Brood In Northeastern South Dakota

Michael B. Whitt1

This resource is based on the following source (Northern Prairie Publication 1087):
Whitt, Michael B.  1999.  Bufflehead brood in northeastern South 
     Dakota.  Prairie Naturalist 31(2):119-120.

This resource should be cited as:

Whitt, Michael B.  1999.  Bufflehead brood in northeastern South 
     Dakota.  Prairie Naturalist 31(2):119-120.  Jamestown, ND: 
     Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.  
     (Version 17AUG2000).

The principal breeding range of bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is in boreal forest and parkland regions of Canada and Alaska (Gauthier 1993). Buffleheads nest in cavities and prefer breeding habitat consisting of small, permanent ponds with little emergent vegetation and poplar (Populus spp.) or coniferous trees in close proximity (Gauthier 1993). The South Dakota Natural Heritage Program listed bufflehead as "critically imperiled," with five or fewer breeding occurrences statewide (Stukel and Backlund 1997). The South Dakota Breeding Bird Atlas (Peterson 1995) listed two confirmed breeding records and one probable record based on breeding bird atlas criteria (Laughlin et al. 1982). Only one confirmed record, a nest with eggs (Peskin and Rorah 1991), involved directly observed evidence of breeding. My paper reports an observation of a bufflehead brood, representing the third South Dakota confirmed breeding record.

On 16 June 1997, I observed an adult female bufflehead with eight recently hatched ducklings (age class 1A; Gollop and Marshall 1954) in Hamlin County (T115N, R55W, Sec. 11, SW 1/4). I observed the hen and brood with binoculars from 35 m for 10 min at an isolated, depressional 4.5 ha semipermanent wetland in a Waterfowl Production Area. Distinguishing characteristics included the female's white cheek patch, small size, and brown color, combined with the bold black-and-white pattern and white cheek patch of the downy young (Nelson 1993). The hen and brood floated motionless in open water as I observed them, but they were gone when I returned with a coworker approximately 20 min later. I estimated basin area as 89% open water, 5% emergent vegetation, 5% wet meadow, and 1% flooded trees. Surrounding habitat within 400 m of the wetland included 30% planted cover (dense nesting cover), 20% hayland, 15% woodland, 15% wetland, 10% cropland, 6% right-of-way, and 4% barren land (dirt road surface).

My observation was made during extensive breeding bird surveys at more than 1000 wetland basins in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota and South Dakota conducted from 1995 to 1997 (D. H. Johnson, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND, unpubl. data). Workers observed 18 bufflehead and indicated breeding pairs in both states during three years, but my observation was the only confirmed breeding record based on breeding bird atlas criteria (Laughlin et al. 1982). The brood likely was produced locally because diving ducks of age class lA are too young to have traveled far. Bufflehead are rare in the Prairie Pothole Region, but continental populations have increased since the 1950's (Gauthier 1993). A wet cycle in the region from 1993 to 1997 resulted in high water levels that reduced stands of emergent vegetation and killed peripheral trees at many wetlands. Suitable cavity trees adjacent to wetlands with little emergent vegetation probably afforded proximate habitat cues for this breeding record south of typical bufflehead breeding range.

I thank R. R. Cox, L. D. Igl, D. H. Johnson, P. J. Pietz, and M. A. Sovada for reviewing an earlier draft of my manuscript.

Literature Cited

Gauthier, G. 1993. Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). In The birds of North 
     America, No. 67 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.), The Academy of Natural 
     Sciences, Philadelphia, PA and The American Ornithologists' Union, 
     Washington, D.C.
Gollop, J. B., and W. H. Marshall. 1954. A guide for aging duck broods in the 
     field. Miss. Flyway Counc. Tech. Sect.
Laughlin, S. B., D. P. Kibbe, and P. F. J. Eagles. 1982. Atlasing the 
     distribution of breeding birds of North America. Am. Birds 36:6-19.
Nelson, C. H. 1993. The downy waterfowl of North America. Delta Station Press, 
     Deerfield, IL.
Peskin, L., and J. E. Rorah. 1991. Bufflehead nest in Brookings County South 
     Dakota. SD Bird Notes 43:77.
Peterson, R. A. 1995. South Dakota breeding bird atlas. South Dakota 
     Ornithologists' Union. Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD.
Stukel, E. D., and D. C. Backlund. 1997. Animal species monitored by the South 
     Dakota natural heritage program. Prairie Nat. 29:179-213. Erratum 

1Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, 8711 37th Street SE, Jamestown, ND 58401.
 Current address: Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, 2330 Sioux Trail N. W., Prior Lake, MN 55372.

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