Common Goldeneye

Selasphorus sasin

The black-and-white Common Goldeneye is one of the last ducks to migrate south in fall. It often will winter as far north as open water permits.

Interesting Information

  • A female Common Goldeneye often lays eggs in the nest of another female, especially in nest boxes. She may lay in the nests of other species of ducks as well. Common and Barrow's goldeneyes lay in each other's nests, and Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers often lay in the goldeneye's nest too.

  • After the ducklings leave the nest they can feed themselves and require only protection. Some females abandon their broods soon after hatching, and the young will join another female's brood. Such mixed broods, known as "creches," may also occur when a female loses some ducklings after a territorial fight with another female. Young scatter and mix when females fight, and not all of them get back to their mother when the fight ends. Some or all of the ducklings may be transferred to one brood, usually that of the territory owner.

  • The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.


Adult Description

  • Medium-sized diving duck.

  • Chunky body.

  • Large head.

  • Male white with black back and head, and circular white spot on face.

  • Length Range: 41-51 cm (16-20 in)

  • Weight: 998 g (35.2 oz)

  • Size: Large (16 - 32 in)

  • Color Primary: White, Black, Sheen or Iridescence

  • Underparts: White

  • Upperparts: Black

  • Back Pattern: Barred or banded, Solid

  • Belly Pattern: Solid

  • Breast Pattern: Solid

Sex Differences

Male Description

Breeding (Alternate) Plumage

Head greenish-black. Bright oval white patch on side of face at base of bill. Sides, breast, belly, and secondaries bright white. Back, wings, and tail black. Short, triangular black bill. Eyes golden yellow.

Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage

Like female, but with some black tinge at sides.

Female Description

Head chocolate brown. Back, wings, and tail slaty gray. Flanks, belly, and breast white. Eyes pale yellow to white. Short, triangular bill black with yellow tip of variable length.


Immature similar to female. First winter male similar to adult male, but has browner head, gray sides and chest, and smaller and less distinct white oval on face.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


  • Breeds along lakes and rivers bordered by forest.

  • Winters primarily in marine waters, bays and harbors, as well as in large inland lakes and rivers.


Dives underwater to capture prey on bottom. Flocks often dive together.


Aquatic invertebrates, and occasionally small fish and vegetation.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
    Subfamily: Anatinae
Genus: Bucephala
Species: Bucephala clangula
    Subspecies: Bucephala clangula americana
  Bucephala clangula clangula

Similar Species

  • Barrow's Goldeneye very similar. Male Barrow's has crescent-shaped white patch on face, less white on secondaries, more black on the back extending up onto the shoulder, a more rounded, purplish head, and a smaller bill. Female Barrow's has more rounded head, and a smaller bill with more extensive yellow.

  • Male Bufflehead is smaller, with a larger white patch on face that is at the rear of the face, not at the base of the bill.

Bird Sound

Silent except in courtship when male gives a faint "peent." Wings produce a loud whistling in flight.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution