Living Bird Magazine
Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangula
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Pato Chillón (Spanish)
- Garrot à oeil d'or (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- Hunters dubbed the Common Goldeneye the “whistler” for the distinctive whistling sound of its wings in flight. Cold weather accentuates the sound.
- A female Common Goldeneye often lays eggs in the nest of another female, especially in nest boxes. She may lay in the nests of other species of ducks as well. Common and Barrow's goldeneyes lay in each other's nests, and Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers often lay in the goldeneye's nest too.
- 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.
- After the ducklings leave the nest they can feed themselves and require only protection. Some females abandon their broods soon after hatching, and the young will join another female's brood. Such mixed broods, known as "creches," may also occur when a female loses some ducklings after a territorial fight with another female. Young scatter and mix when females fight, and not all of them get back to their mother when the fight ends. Some or all of the ducklings may be transferred to one brood, usually that of the territory owner.
- 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.
- In winter and early spring, male Common Goldeneyes perform a complex series of courtship displays that includes up to 14 moves with names like “masthead,” “bowsprit,” and “head throw kick,” in which the male bends his head back to touch his rump, then thrusts forward and kicks up water with his feet.
- The oldest known Common Goldeneye was a male, and at least 20 years, 5 months based. He was banded and found in Minnesota.