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Common Goldeneye

Common Name: Common Goldeneye.

Scientific Name: Bucephala Clangula.

What to look for?  The duck with the golden eye! Common Goldeneyes have compact, medium-sized bodies with large heads, relatively small and narrow bills, and short tails. Male and female goldeneyes have different patterns and coloring. The adult male has a large dark triangular head and a sloping bill. In good light or the right view, the male’s black head has a greenish sheen. There is a white oval spot on the cheek, between the dark bill and the conspicuously bright yellow eye - i.e., “goldeneye”. The body is mostly white with white segments along the folded wing. The female’s bill is dark with a small amount of yellow near the tip. The head is chestnut brown and more round. The body is gray. Sometimes a white collar is visible around the neck. The female’s eye is pale yellow or white. Their legs are very short and far to the rear of their body, making it difficult for them to stand on land. Three of the toes are webbed to help with swimming.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find the Common Goldeneye around here during the early winter until our ponds ice over. Your initial sighting may be “rump-up” as they dive below the surface of our ponds.

How big are they? The Common Goldeneye averages around twenty (20) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately thirty-one (31) inches. They weigh in at around thirty-three (33) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Common Goldeneyes are fast-flying ducks that reach speeds of over 40 miles an hour. Their wings make a distinctive whistling sound in flight. Unlike many diving ducks, they only need a short runway to run or “patter” across the water before taking off.

How else do they behave? Common Goldeneyes are diving ducks that often forage in flocks. They are strong swimmers and divers that spend much of their time on the water, often in large flocks. Common Goldeneyes dive frequently in search of prey, and often synchronize their dives with others. Underwater they hold their wings tight to their bodies and kick with their feet.

What’s for dinner? Common Goldeneyes eat mainly aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans and mollusks, and fish and fish eggs. Vegetation such as seeds and tubers makes up less than a quarter of the diet. They feed mainly along shorelines in relatively shallow water.

Where do they take up residence? Common Goldeneyes are common migrants and winter residents throughout Illinois. They reside across Canada, Alaska, and northern Great Plains during breeding season and much of the northern U.S. during winter. They nest in holes in trees near lakes, rivers, or wetlands.

When and where do they breed and nest? Common Goldeneyes breed throughout nearly all of Canada and Alaska as well as in the northern Great Plains. Monogamous pairs form between early December and April, and the pair stays together until the male abandons the female early in the incubation period. Nest sites include holes created by woodpeckers, cavities where limbs have broken away, or “chimneys” at the top of standing trees. Common Goldeneyes return to the same nesting area - and often the same nest - year after year. Females lay up to nine (9) eggs. Incubation is completed in approximately thirty-one days. The young leave the nest a few days after hatching. Young Common Goldeneyes take to flight at about two (2) months.

Where do they migrate? Common Goldeneyes are medium-distance migrants. They migrate from northern North America via all major flyways - Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic - to reach wintering grounds across the northern U.S. Fall migration is much later than other ducks - mostly as lakes begin to freeze over.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Populations of Common Goldeneyes are numerous, and their population has been steady over recent decades, according to according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of two and one-half million in North America.

Do they make any interesting sounds? While their scientific species name “clangula” means “screaming”, Common Goldeneyes are usually silent. Males give a single, short, faint peent as part of several courtship displays and a grunting sound following copulation. Females give a harsh, croaking gack when disturbed. Here is a link to the sounds of the Common Goldeneye.

Interesting Facts About the Common Goldeneye:

  • The eyes of an adult Common Goldeneye are a bright, golden yellow; but change as they mature: gray-brown at hatching, turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue and pale green-yellow.

  • Hunters dubbed the Common Goldeneye the “whistler” for the distinctive whistling sound of its wings in flight.

  • Common Goldeneye chicks must watch that first step when they leave the nest – it’s a doozy. With nests placed in tree cavities up to 40 feet high, that first step is a long way down. 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.

  • The oldest known Common Goldeneye was approximately 20 years old.

For more information on the Common Goldeneye and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, Illinois DNR, and Missouri Department of Conservation.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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