Photo: Laure Neish/Vireo

Common Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula

This is by far the more numerous of the two goldeneye species, often seen in small flocks, sometimes in large concentrations. When feeding, all the birds in one section of a flock may dive at the same time. They tend not to mix freely with other waterfowl. Fast in flight, their wings make a whistling sound, earning them the hunters' name of "Whistler."
Conservation status Numbers apparently stable. Populations have increased in some areas where nest boxes are provided.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Forested lakes, rivers; in winter, also salt bays, seacoasts. In breeding season requires large trees (for nesting cavities) close to clear, cold water, as around northern lakes, bogs, rivers. In winter mostly on shallow, protected bays and estuaries, also on rivers and lakes.
This is by far the more numerous of the two goldeneye species, often seen in small flocks, sometimes in large concentrations. When feeding, all the birds in one section of a flock may dive at the same time. They tend not to mix freely with other waterfowl. Fast in flight, their wings make a whistling sound, earning them the hunters' name of "Whistler."
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st winter)
  • adult male
  • immature male (1st winter)
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly underwater; rarely by dabbling or up-ending in shallow water.


Eggs

usually 8-11, sometimes 5-17. Olive-green to blue-green. Incubation is by female, usually 29-30 days. Female covers eggs with down when leaving nest. Young: leave nest 1-2 days after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight 56-66 days.


Young

leave nest 1-2 days after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight 56-66 days.

Diet

Varies with season and habitat. Eats crustaceans including crayfish, crabs, shrimps, amphipods, and others; also mollusks (including blue mussel), small fishes, marine worms, frogs, leeches. Aquatic insects are main food in summer (when lakes with no fish may be preferred). Also eats some plant material, such as pondweeds, especially in fall.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 2 years, but 1-year-old females go prospecting for future nest sites in early summer. Pair formation occurs mostly in late winter. Several males may court one female. In courtship, displays of male include throwing head far back with bill pointed skyward while uttering shrill call; also ritualized head-pumping, and short flights with exaggerated takeoff and landing. Nest sites are in large tree cavities, 5-60' above ground, sometimes in abandoned buildings; will use nest boxes. Nest is depression in wood chips at bottom of cavity, lined with down. Where nest sites are scarce, females may lay eggs in each others' nests.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Generally migrates late in fall and early in spring. Males tend to winter farther north than females.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Generally migrates late in fall and early in spring. Males tend to winter farther north than females.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Courtship call of male a high-pitched jeee-ep! Females utter a low quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Diving Ducks Duck-like Birds

Common Goldeneye

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds