Living Bird Magazine
Barrow's GoldeneyeBucephala islandica
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
Mostly a bird of wild northwestern landscapes, Barrow’s Goldeneyes are striking ducks. Males are crisp black-and-white, with a purplish head, a long white crescent on the face, and a row of white “windows” along the shoulder. Females are a cool gray with rich brown heads and usually a mostly orange-yellow bill. They nest in holes in trees (or in nest boxes) in remote boreal and montane forests—often in old nests of Northern Flickers or Pileated Woodpeckers. In winter and spring, males gather around females to perform acrobatic courtship displays.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Barrow’s Goldeneyes on small, forested mountain lakes in summer, or along rocky ocean coasts in winter, or on inland lakes and rivers that remain free of ice. Scan groups of ducks and look for the distinctive, nearly triangular head shape to find goldeneyes. Then check the bill size, forehead shape, and the male’s facial crescent to identify Barrow’s from Common. A spotting scope is useful for enjoying these striking ducks to the fullest.
- Porrón Islándico (Spanish)
- Garrot d'Islande (French)
If you live in the breeding range of Barrow’s Goldeneye, consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Put it up in late winter, well before breeding season, and scatter wood shavings on the floor of the box. The box should be at least 13 inches deep, with entrance 5×4 inches, and the floor at least 7.5 inches across. It’s a good idea to attach a metal guard to keep predators from taking eggs and young. Find out more about Barrow’s Goldeneye nest boxes, including plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- Around Lake Mývatn in Iceland, the small disjunct population of Barrow’s Goldeneye thrives in part because local people create nest boxes for them on the sides of their homes and barns. The local name for the species is húsönd, or “house duck,” as this has been the practice for generations and a source of pride to homeowners who host families of this duck.
- Although Common Goldeneyes sometimes hybridize with Barrow’s Goldeneyes, it isn’t common. In fact, one study analyzed the DNA of birds that appeared to be intermediate between Common and Barrow’s. The study determined that only 2 of 15 birds were in fact hybrids.
- Like many other ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneyes sometimes lay eggs in the nests of other cavity-nesting ducks. Once the ducklings leave the nest, several different broods come together and are taken care of by a single female. The young ducklings are highly independent and require little parental care.
- The oldest known Barrow’s Goldeneye was a female that lived to at least 18 years old.