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Common Goldeneye

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Latin: Bucephala clangula americana
Average length: M 19", F 17"
Average weight: M 2.3 lbs., F 1.7 lbs.

Description: The common goldeneye, like the Barrow's goldeneye, is named for its brilliant yellow iris. Common goldeneyes fly in small compact clusters, with their wings making a distinctive whistle at every wing beat. Male common goldeneyes have blackish iridescent green heads with a white circular patch between the eye and the base of the bill. The breast, sides, belly and patch across the secondaries and secondary wing coverts are white. The back, rump and upper tail coverts are black and the tail is grayish-brown. The bill is black and the legs and feet are yellowish. Female common goldeneyes have chocolate brown heads, a whitish neckband, and speckled gray back and sides. The upper wings are brownish-black with the middle five secondaries colored white. The bill is blackish, becoming yellow near the tip, and the legs and feet are yellowish.


Breeding: Common goldeneyes breed across the forested areas of Canada, Minnesota, Michigan, Alaska and the northeastern United States. They are most abundant among lakes of the Canadian boreal forests, especially where lakes or deep marshes have substantial invertebrate populations. They are cavity nesters and have a strong homing tendency, often using the same cavity in successive years. Nests are usually located near a pond, lake or river, but may be found in woodlands up to a mile from water. Female common goldeneyes nest in natural tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes or nest boxes and lay an average of 9 eggs.


Migrating and Wintering: Some may move from the interior to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and south along the Mississippi and Snake rivers. Along the Atlantic coast, birds winter from Newfoundland to Florida and on the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Chain south to California. The St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes also provide wintering habitat.


Population: Recent breeding population data are not available due to the difficulty of surveying birds in forested habitat, but estimates of the population have average 1.25 million birds (Bellrose, 1976). The wintering populations of the common goldeneyes along the Chesapeake Bay and in Maryland have been decreasing steadily since the 1980s.


Food habits: Common goldeneyes use brackish estuarine and saltwater bays and deep freshwater habitats in the winter and dive to feed on a wide variety of available animal life. In inland areas during the summer and fall, they feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Along coastal wintering grounds they feed largely on crustaceans, mollusks, small fishes and some plant material.


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