Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula

42-50cm

Appearance

The large head with a peaked dome makes the Goldeneye distinctive. It is a bulky yet compact bird, smaller than the Mallard. The male is predominately black and white (black back and tail, white breast, underparts and flanks), though his dark head is glossy green. He has a circular white smudge in front of his bright yellow eye, and a small bill with a white patch at its base. The female is smaller than the male, and her plumage is a mottled grey-brown. Her head is a rich brown colour and her neck is pale with a white collar; she has a piercing yellow eye. When flying, both sexes reveal white on their inner wings, though it's more obvious in males than females. Juveniles look similar to adult females, but they have a dark eye. Immature females lack the white collar.

Habitat

This bird breeds near lakes and forest rivers; majority can be found near large lochs and lakes in Scotland, and small numbers of non-breeding birds spend summer farther south in England, Wales and Ireland. When not in breeding season the bird prefers inland lakes and reservoirs, and sheltered coastal spots.

Character

These birds are regular divers and they often dive deep for large amounts of time. They can usually be found in small groups, tending towards slightly larger flocks in the winter; females often outnumber males. When flying, the bird's wings emit a loud whistling sound. When courting, the male throws back his head to reveal his white breast.

Food

Turns stones over under water to find freshwater mussels. Diet also includes insect larvae such as stonefly, caddis fly and mayfly, small fish and plant material such as pondweed. In marine areas it feeds on shrimps, small crabs, blue mussels, cockles, periwinkles, small fish and plants.

Breeding

About 100 pairs breed in the region each year. Nesting starts in mid-April after pairs have formed in winter flocks. Goldeneyes build nests of down in holes in trees a few metres from the ground. The male begins by protecting the nest, but deserts during the 29 day incubation period. The female lays 8-11 eggs; one day after hatching the young jump from their nest. The female leads them to a rearing area which can be quite some distance from the nest-site. The young can swim, dive and feed themselves, and are independent after about 50 days; they fly after 57 days.

Population

The autumn brings birds from Scandinavia and northern Europe; the population is boosted to over 25 000 in the UK and 9 600 in Ireland during November to March. The birds are most numerous in the north and east of Britain.

Observation Tips

Estuaries during winter, particularly on the east coasts of England and Scotland, are good spots for sightings. There may also be opportunities at large lakes, lochs and well-established reservoirs, particularly in the north of the region.

Voice

Mostly a silent bird, but when displaying, the male makes a squeaky 'zee-zeeeee' sound and a more gentle 'rrrrrr' rattle.
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