My Bantam Lake

Common Goldeneye

Written on 07/03/2018

Bucephala clangula

Common Goldeneyes are medium sized ducks with large heads. The bill is fairly small and narrow. It slopes smoothly downward from the face, giving the head an overall triangular shape. Goldeneyes are diving ducks with streamlined bodies and short tails. They measure 40 to 51 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 77 to 83 centimeters.  Adult male Common Goldeneyes appear mostly black and white: the head is mostly black with a round white spot near the bill and a bright yellow eye. The back is black but the sides are white, making the body appear mostly white. Females have brown heads and gray back and wings. The bill is black with variable amounts of yellow at the tip. In flight, both sexes have large white patches in the wings. These are diving ducks that often forage in flocks and dive simultaneously. They tend to forage in fairly shallow waters (up to 20 feet deep). They are fast fliers; their wings make a distinctive whistling sound in flight. When females are nearby, males frequently display by stretching the head backward against their back and then popping their head forward. They nest in tree cavities in the boreal forest of northern North America. They spend winters mainly in protected coastal waters as well as on large inland lakes and rivers. This species is of low conservation concern.

Fun Facts:

  • Like Wood Ducks, Common Goldeneyes readily use nest boxes as a stand-in for naturally occurring tree cavities. Some return to the same box year after year.

  • Goldeneye chicks leave the nest just one day after they hatch. The first step can be a doozy, with nests placed in tree cavities up to 40 feet high. As the female stands at the base of the tree and calls, the downy chicks jump from the nest hole one after the other and tumble to the ground.

  • The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.


Source: Common Goldeneye Overview and Identification Information, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology