Bird GuideDucks and GeeseCommon Goldeneye

At a Glance

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.'
Diving Ducks, Duck-like Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


16-20" (41-51 cm). Male has roundish white spot before yellow eye, black head and back contrast with white chest and sides. Female has chocolate brown head contrasting with gray body, often has yellow tip on black bill (but bill may be all dark in summer). Young male resembles female through middle of first winter.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Green, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Pointed, Short, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Courtship call of male a high-pitched jeee-ep! Females utter a low quack.
Call Pattern
Flat, Simple
Call Type
Croak/Quack, Rattle


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.



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.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers apparently stable. Populations have increased in some areas where nest boxes are provided.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Common Goldeneye. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Common Goldeneye

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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