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7 Fascinating Facts About the Barrow’s Goldeneye Duck

Barrow’s Goldeneye: A Fascinating SpeciesWith its striking beauty and remarkable behavior, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is one of the most fascinating bird species to observe. Known for its incredible diving ability and distinctive plumage, this bird is a sight to behold.

In this article, we’ll learn how to identify the Barrow’s Goldeneye, explore its remarkable characteristics, and understand how this bird’s plumage changes over its lifetime. Identification:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a medium-sized duck species with a distinctive black and white plumage.

The males have a dark glossy greenish-black head with a white oval patch on each cheek, while the breed’s females have a brown head with white cheek patches. The male’s black and white plumage continues down its entire body, while the female’s brown feathers form a subtle contrast to her white underside.

The Barrow’s Goldeneye has a thick neck, a compact body, and a relatively small bill. Field Identification:

If you want to identify a Barrow’s Goldeneye in the field, there are a few key features to look out for.

The first is their distinctive head shape, which is round and blocky, with a short, thick neck. The males’ black head is unmistakable, so try to get an up-close look of this feature.

Finally, the bird’s flight pattern is unique and unmistakable. They tend to fly with rapid wingbeats and a low, buzzing sound, which you can hear from some distance away.

Similar Species:

While the Barrow’s Goldeneye is a striking bird, there are a few other species that it can be mistaken for in the field. The Common Goldeneye, for example, is similar in size and shape, but its male has a large, distinctive white spot on its face rather than oval cheek patches.

The Bufflehead is another species that might be confused with the Barrow’s Goldeneye, as it has a similar shape and is also black and white. However, the Bufflehead’s head and neck-line are more streamlined than the Barrow’s Goldeneye, and its wingbeats are much faster.


The Barrow’s Goldeneye undergoes a few molts throughout its life, resulting in some significant changes in its plumage. Juvenile plumage:

When these birds hatch, they have a distinct brown and white juvenile plumage.

You’ll usually note that their heads dark brown-black and have a variable amount of white. Adult male plumage:

When Barrow’s Goldeneye reaches maturity, their plumage undergoes a significant change.

Their heads turn a glossy greenish-black color and their white cheek patches become more oval-shaped. Adult female plumage:

Like males, female Goldeneyes undergo a few plumage changes as well.

Many of the feathers of their juvenile plumage are trashed as they reach two months. However, their heads remain glossy brown, with white patches as they get older.


All Barrow’s Goldeneyes moult twice at the end of the breeding season and before migration. While these birds are flightless during molting, they are still able to dive in search of food.


In summary, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is a beautiful and fascinating duck species. Its distinctive black and white plumage, remarkable diving ability, and unique flight pattern make it a favorite among birdwatchers.

By understanding how to identify and distinguish it from similar species, you can appreciate this amazing bird’s beauty and behavior. Systematics History and Historical Changes to Distribution of Barrow’s Goldeneye

The Barrow’s Goldeneye, scientifically known as Bucephala islandica, is a medium-sized diving duck species.

It is native to the North American continent, but there have been various historical changes in its distribution. In this article, we will delve into the bird’s taxonomic history, geographic variation and subspecies, as well as relate it to other species in its family.

Systematics History:

Initially, the Barrow’s Goldeneye was believed to be a solitary species, and its scientific name was Bucephala islandica. However, its taxonomic history has been revised several times.

The bird was later lumped with the Common Goldeneye from Eurasia under the scientific name Bucephala clangula islandica. However, more recent genetic research shows that it might be more closely related to the Bufflehead and the Hooded Merganser than the Common Goldeneye.

Geographic Variation:

The species has a limited breeding range with a peculiar geography. It breeds on the coast of the northernmost latitudes in both the eastern and western hemispheres.

In North America, the species breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland and Labrador, while in Europe, it only breeds in Iceland. There are no recognized subspecies of Barrow’s Goldeneye, but there is a difference in size between males and females.

The males are larger than females, especially in beak and body size. Subspecies:

Despite the absence of domesticated subspecies, there are distinct populations of the Barrow’s Goldeneye.

One such isolated population, rarely seen away from its breeding area, is the Pacific Goldeneye, also known as the Baikal Teal. They breed on the Kamchatka region of the Russian Far East, and during winter, they fly south to the southeast Asia region.

Related Species:

As noted earlier, genetic studies suggest that the Barrow’s Goldeneye is more closely related to the Hooded Merganser and the Bufflehead than the Common Goldeneye. This “tribe” of diving ducks is named the Mergini.

The Hooded Merganser has a more diverse range, present throughout the eastern half of North America. The Bufflehead species, which is slightly smaller, is also distributed throughout the continent, albeit in small numbers.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

There have been several notable changes in the goldeneye duck’s distribution over the years. The species used to breed in Labrador, Newfoundland, and the southern portions of the James Bay but is now absent in such parts of North America.

The reason for this movement is believed to be due to changes in environmental conditions, climate change, and habitat loss caused by human activities. Deforestation, wetland drainage, oil spills, and pesticide pollution have significantly affected the Barrow’s Goldeneye, leading to changes in their migratory patterns and breeding habitat.

This species’ breeding population size is also threatened by predators such as gulls, foxes, and squirrels. However, the Barrow’s Goldeneye has also moved into new breeding territories.

This is particularly true for Iceland, where the bird was originally absent. The species first arrived in Iceland after an unusually cold winter froze the waterways in northern Europe, leaving the birds with no other option but to cross the North Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, the population has thrived in Iceland, where the bird is an icon for local conservation efforts. Conclusion:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a unique bird species with a distinct history and a fascinating taxonomic story.

Despite a limited range, its geographic variation, and sometimes related species, make it an interesting subject of study. The bird has experienced historical changes in its distribution, including possible introduction and extinction in some areas, but it continues to adapt and thrive in some areas.

Its survival is crucial, and with active conservation efforts, this magnificent bird will remain a part of our natural world for years to come. Habitat and Movements of Barrow’s Goldeneye

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a medium-sized diving duck species that is native to North America.

These birds prefer nesting in undisturbed areas that provide cover, food, and water. In this article, we will discuss the habitat preferences of the Barrow’s Goldeneye and their movements, including migration patterns.


The Barrow’s Goldeneye prefers to nest in forested areas, near freshwater sources such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands. They generally select sheltered nest sites, such as cavities in trees and rocks, which provide a secure place to rear their young.

Their breeding range extends from Alaska to Newfoundland but is limited to specific areas along the coastal regions of West Greenland and Iceland. During winter, the Barrow’s Goldeneye moves to lower elevations, seeking areas where the water does not freeze over.

They can be found along coastal waters, shallow inland lakes, and rivers in the same areas where they breed. They can often be seen in small flocks or in pairs, taking advantage of the ice-free waters.

Movements and Migration:

Barrow’s Goldeneyes are migratory birds that undertake long-distance movements from their breeding grounds in the north to their non-breeding areas in the south. They typically migrate in flocks and follow a specific flyway, which are the established migratory routes of birds.

During migration, flocks of Barrow’s Goldeneyes are often seen flying at a low altitude. They usually fly in a streamlined V-formation to conserve energy and keep in communication with one another, honking gently as they fly.

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a partial migrant, meaning that some individuals do not migrate. The non-migratory birds are typically found in areas where the water does not freeze over and where the food supply is sufficient year-round.

These non-migratory ducks are known as “residents” and are usually found in the same areas year-round. In the northernmost regions of their range, Barrow’s Goldeneyes begin to migrate south in mid-August, with most of the populations migrating to southern regions by November.

However, populations in more southern regions may not begin migration until later in the year, depending on the cold season’s severity. There have also been instances where some Barrow’s Goldeneyes have stayed in the northern regions throughout the winter.

Interestingly, Barrow’s Goldeneyes that breed on the Pacific Coast of North America tend to have shorter migration distances than their counterparts from the Atlantic Coast. Pacific birds migrate south along the Pacific coast or in wintering areas from Alaska to California, while Atlantic birds move south as far as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.


The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a bird species that requires specific habitat features for survival and reproduction. They prefer to nest near freshwater sources in undisturbed forested areas and move to lower elevations in winter to find water that does not freeze over.

Barrow’s Goldeneyes undertake long-distance movements during migration, following established migratory routes or flyways. While some individuals stay in the same areas year-round, others travel thousands of kilometers to wintering grounds, making the Barrow’s Goldeneye a remarkable species that relies on its physical adaptations for survival in different environments and habitats.

Diet and Foraging of Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Sounds and Vocal Behavior

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a medium-sized diving duck species that is native to North America and Iceland. These birds are adapted to hunting and foraging underwater, making them proficient divers.

In this article, we will dive into the feeding behavior, diet, metabolism, and temperature regulation of Barrow’s Goldeneye, as well as discuss their sounds and vocal behavior. Diet and Foraging:

Barrow’s Goldeneye is a diving species, meaning that they dive for their food.

They typically feed on aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and insects, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies. During the breeding season, they tend to feed more on larger food items, such as crustaceans, mollusks, and fish.

These birds are adapted for foraging by their streamlined bodies and well-developed webbed feet, which enable them to propel themselves through water with ease. The Barrow’s Goldeneye uses its bill to grab food items from the water, while its powerful wings provide the necessary energy to dive for their food.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye has a unique metabolic adaptation that allows them to thrive in cold water environments. Their metabolic rate flexes up to five times higher than when they are resting, providing the necessary body heat to stay warm in cold water.

Their downy-soft underlayer of feathers helps them retain body heat, while a layer of waterproof feathers on top forms a barrier that keeps water away from their skin. This dual feather layer helps them maintain a consistent body temperature while diving and foraging in cold water.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:

Barrow’s Goldeneyes are relatively quiet birds that rarely make vocalizations except during courtship or threats from predators. The males make distinct whistling sounds during breeding displays and courtship, using a combination of wingbeats and vocalizations to attract mates.

During courtship, males use vocalizations to signal their availability for breeding. They stretch their necks and emit a series of high-pitched calls that increase in volume and frequency, signaling their desire to mate.

These sounds are distinct from other waterfowl and can be used to identify the species without seeing the bird. Additionally, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is capable of making low, harsh quacking sounds when they feel threatened or are startled by predators.

This vocalization is a warning to other members of the flock that danger is nearby. While they are relatively quiet birds, their vocal sounds are important cues for communication and reproductive success.


The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a remarkable bird species that is well adapted to hunting and foraging underwater. These birds have unique metabolic adaptations for staying warm in cold water, and their streamlined body shape and webbed feet make them efficient foragers.

While they are relatively quiet birds, Barrow’s Goldeneyes make distinct whistling sounds during courtship and low quacking sounds when they feel threatened. Understanding their feeding behavior, metabolism, and communication is key to appreciating the unique traits of this impressive diving bird.

Behavior, Breeding, Demography, and Populations of Barrow’s Goldeneye

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a fascinating bird species famous for its diving ability and distinctive plumage. In this article, we will explore this bird’s behavior, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, and sexual behavior.

We will also delve into their breeding habits, demography, and populations, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the Barrow’s Goldeneye. Behavior:

The locomotion of a Barrow’s Goldeneye is noteworthy as it can swim and dive underwater with incredible agility and speed.

The shape of their body and webbed feet aids this, with a streamlined, torpedo-like shape that creates minimal resistance to water when they dive. They are excellent swimmers and can fly with rapid wing beats while producing a low buzzing sound.

When they fly, they follow the V-formation, with a leader at the front to cut through the air and reduce wind resistance. Self-maintenance behavior involves the bird’s preening and feather ruffling.

Preening is the act of removing dirt and debris from feathers. The bird spreads oil from its preen gland and runs its beak along each feather to smooth out serrated parts and maintain their hydrophobic nature.

Feather ruffling, on the other hand, is a method of rearranging feathers to fluff them out for insulation. Agonistic behavior is observed in Barrow’s Goldeneye, especially while in groups.

Males actively defend territory and will chase away other males that they perceive as a threat. They also engage in combat, which involves biting, neck-wrestling, pinning, and hitting with wings or flippers.

Sexual behavior involves courtship displays and mating activities. During breeding, males perform elaborate displays with whistling sounds to attract females.

Females select mates based on the quality of their display, and males become highly competitive over breeding territories, large enough to accommodate females for nesting. Breeding:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye breeds in forests near water sources.

After migrating to their breeding destination in mid-spring, the males establish territories by calling their mates to selected sites to start nesting. The species is monogamous, paired with a single partner for the duration of the breeding season.

Once they mate, the female plucks their breast feathers to line nests in tree cavities, crevices in rocks, and nest boxes set up for conservation purposes. Barrow’s Goldeneye pairs lay clutches of about six to ten eggs in May, which the females incubate for about 30 days.

After hatching, the young are tended and cared for until they fledge about 45 days later. Parents are caring, fiercely protective of their young, and will lead them to abundant food sources, even diving underwater to find food.

Demography and Populations:

The life expectancy for Barrow’s Goldeneyes in the wild can range from 4-7 years. The population has been declining since the 1970s in some regions due to habitat loss, pollution, and hunting.

While it’s not considered endangered, conservation efforts have been made to monitor and protect its breeding areas, wintering areas, and migration pathways. Currently, there are regulations in place that limit the hunting of Barrow’s Goldeneyes in North America.

Due to their low reproductive rates, these bird species are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, pollution, predation, and disturbance. The maintenance of the pristine habitat and careful management of the water systems are keys to their survival and continued existence.


The Barrow’s Goldeneye is an intriguing bird species. Their ability to dive, swim, fly, preen, and protect their young is remarkable.

Barrow’s Goldeneyes breeding is unique, with elaborate courtship displays, monogamy, and territorial behavior. Demography and populations of these birds remain a subject of concern due to habitat loss, pollution, and hunting.

The species serves as a reminder of the need for preservation and conservation, and efforts must be sustained

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