The Barrow’s goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) is a charming little duck named for its yellow eyes, a trait shared by both the male and the female of the species. They also share a puffy head and neck that give them the appearance of having a swiftly rising forehead, along with a short bill.
The male is largely black and white, although his head has a purplish sheen. Other distinctive features of his pattern include a white crescent near the base of his bill and a black mark that nearly divides his breast from his flanks. When swimming on the water, white bars or spots may be seen on the wing.
The female is primarily a mottled gray-brown overall, slightly darker above than below. Her head is brown.
Best Field Marks
- White crescent on face of male.
The voice of this duck cannot exactly be described as pleasant, the male making grating croaks and the female uttering a hoarse quack. The Barrow’s goldeneye also produces a whistling sound in flight, but this comes from the wings, not the voice.
Distribution & Occurrence
The Barrow’s goldeneye is primarily a bird of the northwestern United States, Alaska, and far western Canada. However, it can be found in Kansas as an accidental visitor. The Barrow’s goldeneye has been seen from October through February in the following counties:
This species can provide enjoyable viewing to the avid birdwatcher, as it is relatively unafraid of humans, although less gregarious than many ducks.
To take flight, the Barrow’s goldeneye starts by running across the surface of the water. Once airborne, it flies swiftly and directly, staying close to the water for a time before rising higher. It seems to prefer calm, sheltered locations and will rarely come in for a landing on running water. On lakes, it will stay close to the banks if the wind is causing too much chop.
The Barrow’s goldeneye shows a remarkable talent for diving and can remain underwater for a considerable length of time. In winter, it forages for submerged mollusks, although it may also bring up small fish and is not opposed to eating fish eggs whenever they are available.
The Barrow’s goldeneye is far too rare in Kansas to present much opportunity for either birdwatchers or hunters.
Females and nonbreeding males of these two species can be almost impossible to separate, and to make matters worse they occasionally hybridize. In Kansas, it is generally safe to assume that the species in question is a common goldeneye. However, for those who prefer to take nothing for granted, some pointers are in order. The male common goldeneye sports a rounded or oval white spot on his face rather than a crescent, and his head is greenish instead of purplish. He also shows far more white in the wing than does his counterpart. The female common goldeneye’s bill is darker than that of the Barrow’s goldeneye. Also, the former has a more sloping forehead, compared to the puffy, steep-foreheaded, short-billed profile of the latter.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.