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.'

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.


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.

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

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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

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

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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.
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