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Common Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The male Common Goldeneye adds a bright note to winter days with its radiant amber eye, glistening green-black head, and crisp black-and-white body and wings. The female has a chocolate brown head with the same bright eye that gives this species its name. These distinctively shaped, large-headed ducks dive for their food, eating mostly aquatic invertebrates and fish. They nest in tree cavities in the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska; look for them on large rivers, lakes, and Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts in winter.

Keys to identification Help

Ducks
Ducks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    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.

  • Color Pattern

    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.

  • Behavior

    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.

  • Habitat

    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.

Range Map Help

Common Goldeneye Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Common Goldeneye

    Male
  • Female

    Common Goldeneye

    Female
  • Male and Female

    Common Goldeneye

    Male and Female
  • Female

    Common Goldeneye

    Female
    • © Cornell Lab of Ornithology/Cameron Rognan, Provo, Utah

Similar Species

Similar Species

Barrow’s Goldeneye have a shorter bill that juts out abruptly from a nearly vertical forehead, unlike the smooth slope of a Common Goldeneye’s head. The white panels on the side of male Barrow’s Goldeneye are smaller and more distinct, giving it an overall darker appearance than Common. The white patch on male Barrow’s face tends to be more crescent-shaped and less oval than Common Goldeneye’s. Females are best distinguished by head and bill shape (above); also, female Barrow’s usually have more yellow on the bill than female Common. Bufflehead are smaller than goldeneyes. Male Bufflehead have a larger white patch that is at the rear of the head, not next to the bill. Female Bufflehead are more uniform brown, with a white patch on the head that female goldeneyes lack.

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Common Goldeneyes breed in the boreal forest, so winter is the best time for most people in North America to see them. Look for them in flocks on fairly large bodies of water. Most goldeneyes winter on protected coastal waters, but you can still find them fairly readily on inland lakes as well. In fall they are late migrants, often coming through just as lakes are freezing. Look for their distinctively shaped heads and the bright yellow eye that is visible from a surprisingly long way off. The birds may abruptly disappear as they dive for food, but keep your eye on them as they tend to surface after about a minute or so.

You Might Also Like

What to Watch For: Duck Courtship [video], All About Birds blog, January 20, 2015.

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