14" long, by 6" wide, by 6" high.
found in large rafts outside the breeding season, Common Goldeneyes
are frequent winter residents in Puget Sound and on large Washington
rivers. The male Common Goldeneye has a dark iridescent-green
head that looks black when not in the sun. He also has a prominent
round or oval white spot on each side of his face at the base
of his black bill. His belly and flanks are white, and his rump
is black. His back is mostly white with black bars. The female
Common Goldeneye has a gray body, brown head, and yellow eyes.
This bird can be very difficult to distinguish from a female
Barrow's Goldeneye. The bill of the Common Goldeneye is mostly
black with a yellow tip, while that of the Barrow's is mostly
yellow. Juveniles are gray with brownish heads, similar to females
but with less differentiation between the head and body colors.
Consult a field guide or an experienced observer, consider range
and habitat, and study nearby males for clues about which female
and juvenile goldeneyes might be present.
Goldeneyes breed worldwide in northern boreal forests. They prefer
clear water in small lakes and ponds that are not overwhelmed
with submergent and emergent vegetation and which do not support
populations of fish. Goldeneyes are cavity-nesting ducks and
generally require forested habitat with mature trees (deciduous
or coniferous) that offer suitable nesting cavities. During migration,
goldeneyes stop on large lakes and rivers to feed while they
move between breeding and wintering habitats. They winter primarily
in marine areas, in shallow protected bays, estuaries, and large
lakes with a sandy, gravel, or rocky substrate. They are occasionally
found on sewage lagoons, and non-breeding birds sometimes summer
in these areas.
Goldeneyes are diving ducks and forage mostly under water. Often
a whole group of goldeneyes will dive at the same time. Goldeneyes
are aggressive and territorial, and the male performs spectacular
and complex courtship displays. The female commonly lays eggs
in the nests of other Common Goldeneyes and other ducks, especially
other cavity-nesting ducks.
the breeding grounds, aquatic insects make up the bulk of the
diet, and in fact, goldeneyes prefer ponds that lack insect-eating
fish which compete for prey. On wintering grounds, mollusks,
crustaceans, and fish are the main foods.
Common Goldeneyes do not usually start breeding until the age
of two years, but yearlings may prospect for future nest sites.
Females typically return to the areas where they hatched (philopatry),
and once they breed, often return to the same nesting site year
after year. Pairs form in late winter or early spring. Nests
are located in cavities in large trees, 5 to 60 feet above the
ground. Cavities are often old Pileated Woodpecker holes, natural
cavities made from torn branches, or artificial nest boxes. The
nest itself is a depression in existing material (wood chips,
leaves, or material from a previous nest) lined with down. The
female typically lays 7 to 10 eggs and incubates them for 28
to 32 days. After one or two weeks of incubation, the pair bond
dissolves, and the male begins his molt migration. It is not
known whether these pair bonds re-form in the fall, but other
sea ducks, including Barrow's Goldeneyes, do re-pair, so it is
quite possible that Common Goldeneyes do as well. The young leave
the nest one to two days after hatching, and the female leads
them to areas with abundant food where they feed themselves.
Broods will sometimes join other broods in a large crèche.
This most often occurs if the female has abandoned a brood early,
or if broods are mixed up during territorial disputes between
females. Females abandon the young before they can fly, usually
at 5 to 6 weeks of age, but occasionally earlier. The young fledge
at 8 to 9 weeks of age.
incubation begins, the males undergo a molt migration, which
is usually a short distance and often in a northerly direction
to larger lakes, bays, and rivers. Then, late in the fall, they
migrate medium distances from these staging areas to the wintering
grounds, often not arriving until late October or early November.
Males winter farther north than females, often as far north as
there is open water. Goldeneyes leave for the breeding areas
in late February.
Goldeneyes are more numerous and widespread than Barrow's Goldeneyes.
The population appears stable, and numbers have increased in
some areas where nest boxes have been provided. Common Goldeneyes
have recently begun to take advantage of northern areas with
industrial effluent discharge, which keeps the water free of
ice in areas that are typically frozen in the winter. The concentration
of birds at these sites is of concern since contamination from
the effluent is highly possible. Another characteristic of Common
Goldeneyes is their tendency to prefer acidified water. Many
acid-tolerant insects provide plentiful prey, and most fish cannot
live in these highly acid environments, thus reducing competition.
Common Goldeneyes' use of these disturbed environments is of
concern because of the possible short- and long-term effects
of toxins that may also be found in these areas. The cavity-nesting
nature of this species makes it vulnerable to logging and other
habitat destruction that eliminate natural cavities. Their productivity
is relatively low for waterfowl, and their strong fidelity to
natal sites makes them slow to colonize new areas, resulting
in a population that may be slow to rebound from decreases.