On October 15th, the Bufflehead’s return, to great celebration in Sidney and Victoria, B.C. The Bufflehead is the world’s smallest diving duck and one of the most strikingly handsome waterfowl. It consistently arrives on its coastal wintering grounds very closely around the 298th day of the solar cycle (288th day of the Julian calendar), October 15th. Naturalists and scientists use the duck’s arrival as a guide to the arrival of other migrants and the timing of the winter freeze.
This year, a celebration is planned at Lillian Hoffar Park, North Saanich, starting at 11am, hosted by the Town of Sidney, the District of North Saanich, and Member of Parliament Elizabeth May.
Green Party Leader and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands will be presenting a private member’s bill asking for October 15th to be declared National All Buffleheads Day in honour of the duck.
“The Bufflehead is known as the Spirit Duck because they are such spritely little things. They are so punctual that when you see them arrive, you know the date instantly. However, with climatic shifts occurring, we need to keep a close eye on this little duck,” said May.
Naturalists are watching to see if the timing of the Bufflehead migration changes, as it may provide a signal of climate change. In Britain, scientists have already noted changes in arrival and departure dates of migrant birds which they attribute to the changing climate.
“With a precise timeline like we see with the Bufflehead, it really brings home how carefully synchronized nature’s cycles are,” said May. “The Bufflehead has been very stable over many decades. If we start seeing changes in its migration patterns, it will be an indicator of environmental change that deserves notice.”
Within May’s riding, the District of North Saanich and the Town of Sidney have both long worked hard to protect Bufflehead habitat in Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1931. The duck is part of the official crest of the Town of Sidney. Sidney and North Saanich have already proclaimed Oct. 15 to be All Bufflehead’s Day.
The Bufflehead’s small size is an adaptation to fit into the vacant nest cavities of one species of woodpecker, the Flicker, which makes its home in Aspen trees. Thus, Buffleheads have evolved with and are dependent on the Flicker. Its speedy movements, constant activity, and “water-skiing” posture during mating make this important species particularly endearing and a delight to watch. The Bufflehead is unique to North America, and has been called a truly Canadian duck.