Conservation status Thought to have increased in numbers in recent decades.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Lakes, ponds. In winter, coastal waters, rivers. Breeds on cold inland waters, such as small lakes, rivers, beaver ponds, mostly in forested country but also in open terrain. In winter mainly on shallow, protected coastal waters, such as bays and estuaries. May winter far inland on lakes and rivers, even in very cold regions where hot springs keep water open.
The less numerous of the two goldeneye species, found mainly in wild country of northwestern North America, with small populations in eastern Canada and Iceland. Occurs in small groups in winter on cold waters, sometimes associating with Common Goldeneye flocks. Since it does not always nest in tree cavities, Barrow's may nest farther north than Common Goldeneye, extending north of treeline.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater; rarely by dabbling in shallow water.


7-10, sometimes 5-14. Pale olive to blue-green. Incubation is by female, 28-34 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 about 8 weeks.


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 about 8 weeks.


varies with season and habitat. On fresh water eats mainly aquatic insects, such as larvae of dragonflies and caddisflies. At sea eats mostly crustaceans and mollusks. Also eats much plant material, especially pondweeds, mainly in summer and fall.


Pairs are formed mostly in winter. Several males may court one female in communal display on water. Displays of male include a circular pumping action of the head; also turning head from side to side, flapping wings. Nest: Female selects nest site and may re-use it for several years. Sites are mainly in large tree cavities, also in rock crevices, abandoned buildings, burrows, or on ground under bushes in treeless country. Will also use nest boxes. Nest is shallow depression lined with down and sometimes other materials.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Migrates late in fall and early in spring. Able to adapt to changing conditions; in recent years some have wintered on cold waters just downstream from dams on lower Colorado River, south of any previous wintering area.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Soft grunts and croaks during courtship; otherwise usually silent.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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