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Common Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula

The common goldeneye is an active diving duck that can be identified by its golden yellow eyes and white, rounded face patches. It visits the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers from late autumn through spring.


  • Males and females have different patterns and coloring
  • Males have a mostly white body, a black back and a glossy, dark green head. They have a round white patch on the face between their eye and the base of the bill.
  • Females have a chestnut brown head, a gray body and a white “collar” around the neck
  • Large, rounded head
  • Golden yellow eyes
  • Black bill
  • Grows to 15-20 inches with a wingspan of about 31 inches. Males are slightly larger than females.


  • Lives on the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers
  • Tends to stay in areas that are 5-20 feet deep
  • Found mostly on salty and brackish waters, but can also live on fresh water


  • Found throughout the Bay region in winter
  • Most arrive between mid-November and mid-December
  • Migrates back to its northern breeding grounds beginning in February


  • Eats small aquatic animals such as crabs, crayfish, snails, clams and insects
  • May also feed on small fish and bits of vegetation
  • Dives for its prey and eats it while underwater


  • Humans hunt goldeneyes
  • Hawks, owls, eagles and raccoons prey upon females and young on their breeding grounds


  • Takes off by running across the water’s surface and flapping its wings
  • Flies low over the water and high over the land
  • Has a rapid wing beat that makes a whistling sound
  • Can be identified in flight by its white face patches and black-and-white wings


  • Silent during winter, when it is not breeding season

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Does not nest and breed in the Bay region
  • Breeding grounds are located throughout Canada and Alaska
  • Nests in tree cavities formed by woodpeckers
  • At hatching, goldeneyes’ eyes are grayish-brown. They turn purplish-blue, then blue, then greenish-blue as the bird gets older. By five months old, their eyes become a clear pale greenish-yellow. They eventually turn golden yellow.
  • Can live 11-12 years

Other Facts:

  • Gets its name from its golden yellow eyes
  • Also called whistlers because of the whistling sound its wingbeats make
  • During winter, goldeneyes tend to stay as far north as they can while still having ice-free water
  • Can stay underwater for up to 55 seconds
  • An excellent swimmer that spends most of its time on the water. Like other diving ducks, goldeneyes are clumsy on land because their legs are located far back on the body.

Sources and Additional Information:


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