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The common goldeneye is distinguished from other goldeneyes by its puffy head shape and a large white wing patch that is conspicuous in flight. And, in flight, its wings produce a characteristic whistling sound. Males have a white body, black back, and iridescent green head, while females are mostly gray and have a dark brown head. Both sexes have a prominent white, oval-shaped patch at the base of the bill.
A medium-sized diving duck, the common goldeneye is 16-20 inches long, has a wingpsan of about 30 inches, and weighs up to two pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
Common goldeneyes are found throughout North America and Eurasia, along coastal waters and inland rivers and lakes. They breed farther north than any other duck, from Scotland through northern Europe to the Kamchatka Peninsula, across Canada, and from northern Minnesota to Maine. Often the last ducks to migrate, some populations may stay in their breeding range year round if their preferred habitats stay ice-free.
Breeding season runs from December through May. During his courtship display the drake stretches his head forward along the water and then snaps it rapidly upward over his back, bill pointed skyward, while uttering a shrill, two-noted call. Then he swings his orange feet forward, sending up a small shower in front of him. Several males may perform displays to one or two females at a time, but each female will only choose one mate per year.
The hen lays 6-15 pale green eggs in an abandoned woodpecker nest, tree cavity, or nest box, lined with down. She will incubate the eggs alone for 27-32 days, leaving them unguarded when she goes for food. Chicks can leave the nest within 24 hours after hatching, but will be guarded and brooded by the female for up to 6 weeks; they can fly at 8-9 weeks. Males take no part in caring for chicks.
Common goldeneyes feed on aquatic insects and plants, small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans; some seeds and tubers are also taken. They usually forage in open water and dive to catch prey.
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This page was last updated on October 22, 2017.