The common goldeneye is an elegant winter duck that is easy to recognize by its stark black-and-white plumage and distinctive markings.
Common Goldeneye, Goldeneye
- Bill: Spatulate, black
- Size: 18 inches long with 30-inch wingspan, rounded head
- Colors: Black, white, yellow, orange, iridescent, brown, gray
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have black upperparts. The black head shows iridescent green gloss in good light with a white oval patch in front of the bright yellow eye. Body and wings are white with thin black slashes on the wings. Females have a brown head, pale yellow eye, an orange bill tip and overall mottled gray-brown plumage. A white collar and white wing patch may be visible. Both genders have yellow legs and feet and show large white wing patches in flight.
Insects, aquatic plants, mollusks
Habitat and Migration:
In summer, these ducks prefer freshwater forest lakes and rivers, while in the winter they visit both open freshwater areas and coastal waters. In North America, their summer range includes Alaska and Canada except the extreme north. In winter they migrate to the continental United States except in the southeast, though some common goldeneyes will winter along the Gulf Coast. Year-round populations can be found along the Canadian border with eastern Washington, Idaho and western Montana, as well as along the northern Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence River. In Asia and Europe, these ducks inhabit similar latitudes, though they are more common in Asia than Europe.
Like all ducks, common goldeneyes are primarily silent except during the breeding season. During courtship displays, males have a nasal "peeent" or "pee-peeent" call. In flight, these ducks' wings make loud whistling sounds.
These are diving ducks that can dive up to 20 feet below the surface of the water to forage for food. They are energetic but wary and spook easily, taking off into their whistling flight with little provocation. They form small to large flocks in the winter, often mixed with Barrow's goldeneyes, scaups and northern shovelers.
These are monogamous, cavity-nesting ducks that mate after elaborate courtship displays when the males will bend their necks over their backs while calling. The female parent will incubate the brood of 5-20 eggs for 28-32 days. The precocial young leave the nest in a day or two but stay with the female parent for protection. Their first flight is at 55-60 days. Only one brood is raised each year, and hybridization with Barrow's goldeneyes, while uncommon, is not unheard of.
Attracting Common Goldeneyes:
No ducks are regular backyard birds, but in the proper habitat common goldeneyes can be attracted to nest boxes. Leaving undisturbed buffer areas in riparian corridors and along forest lakes can also provide suitable cover to attract these ducks.
- Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)
- Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Photo – Common Goldeneye – Male © Graham Racher
Photo – Common Goldeneye – Female © Billy Lindblom