A nesting duck of the northern boreal forest, the Common Goldeneye winters broadly across the U.S. Clear lakes are preferred, as are lake with few or no fish, so there is less competition for the Common Goldeneye’s invertebrate prey.
Common Goldeneyes are sometimes known as whistlers because their wings make a loud whistling sound when flapping. This sound seems to be more pronounced when temperatures are low. Common Goldeneyes are seldom found in flocks with other ducks.
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Description of the Common Goldeneye
The Common Goldeneye is a diving duck about the size of a Redhead, with a mostly black bill.
Males have white flanks reinforced by mostly white folded wings, black upperparts, and a glossy blackish head with a large, round, white spot between the eye and bill. Length: 18 in. Wingspan: 26 in.
First image is male displaying. Second image is female.
The third image may be a Common cross Barrow’s Goldeneye. Notice the elptical shape of the white on the face.
Females have gray flanks and upperparts, a brown head, and a mostly black bill with a yellow tip.
Seasonal change in appearance
Males in nonbreeding plumage are similar but darker.
The immature Common Goldeneye is similar to the adult female but lacks the yellow bill tip.
Common Goldeneyes inhabit lakes, rivers, and salt bays.
Common Goldeneyes eat crustaceans, fish, mollusks, and aquatic insects, as well as plant material on occasion.
The Common Goldeneye dives to forage.
Common Goldeneyes occur throughout most of the U.S. and Canada, breeding in northernmost portions of the U.S. north to Alaska, and wintering across most of the lower 48 states, as well as the Pacific Coast north to the Aleutians, and the Atlantic Coast north to southeastern Canada. The population is generally stable.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Common Goldeneye.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
- Male, Washington, Apr.
- From below
- Male, immature, Washington, Mar.
- From below
- Female, Washington, Feb
- From below
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
Female Common Goldeneyes tend to winter farther south than males.
The wings of Common Goldeneyes produce a whistling sound in flight, leading to their nickname of “Whistler.”
Female Common Goldeneyes give Redhead-like growl, while males produce a whistle.
Male Lesser Scaup lack white in the face, and both male and female scaup have bluish bills.
The much less widely distributed Barrow’s Goldeneye has a crescent-shaped white patch on its face, and significantly more black in the folded wing.
The Common Goldeneye’s nest is within a large tree cavity or in a nest box.
Number: Usually lay 7-10 eggs.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 29-30 days and leave the nest within a day or two after hatching, but cannot fly for about 8-9 weeks.
Bent Life History of the Common Goldeneye
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Common Goldeneye – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
GLAUCIONETTA CLANGULA AMERICANA (Bonaparte)
Spring: With the breaking up of winter in Massachusetts, when the February sun has loosened the icy fetters of our rivers and the ice cakes are floating out of our harbors, the genial warmth of advancing spring arouses amorous instincts in the breasts of the warm-blooded goldeneyes. The plumage of the drakes has reached its highest stage of perfection; their heads fairly glisten with metallic green luster, in sharp contrast with their spotless white under parts; and their feet glow with brilliant orange hues. They must seem handsome indeed to their more somber companions of the opposite sex, as they chase each other about over the water, making the spray fly in ardent combat. They are strenuous, active suitors, and their courtships are well worth watching.
Courtship: T his interesting performance, the most spectacular courtship of any of the ducks, has been fully described in detail by Mr. William Brewster (1911). Rather than attempt to quote from such an exhaustive account, I would refer the reader to this excellent article, which is well illustrated and worthy of careful study. I prefer to quote Dr. Charles W. Townsend’s (1910) account of it, which is more concise and yet quite complete; he writes:
One or more males swim restlessly back and forth and around a female. The feathers of the cheeks and crest of the male are so erected that the head looks large and round, the neck correspondingly small. As he swims along, the head is thrust out in front close to the water, occasionally dabbling at It. Suddenly he springs forward, elevating his breast and at the same time he enters on the most typical and essential part of the performance. The neck is stretched straight up, and the bill, pointing to the zenith, is opened to emit a harsh, rasping double note, zzee-at, vibratory and searching in character. The head is then quickly snapped back until the occiput touches the rump, whence it is brought forward again with a jerk to the normal position. As the head is returned to its place the bird often springs forward kicking the water in a spurt out behind, and displaying like a flash of flame the orange-colored legs.
As these courtships begin on warm days in February and last through March, probably many pairs are mated before they migrate to their breeding grounds in April. Doctor Townsend writes me that he saw a pair copulating at Barnstable, Massachusetts, on March 28. Mr. Charles F. Alford (1921) writes:
Though the habit of lying more or less prone upon the xvater is common to most females of the Anatidae when they desire to pair, the duck goldeneye carries this performance beyond all normal bounds; her behavior on such occasions being, indeed, scarcely less amazing than that of the drake. With neck outstrdtched and her body quite limp and apparently lifeless, she allows herself to drift upon the surface exactly after the manner of a dead bird. When first I witnessed this maneuver I was completely deceived, for she remained thus drifting toward the shore, and with the male swimming round her for fully 15 minutes before actual pairing took place. This occurred on February 2, 1920, a beautiful springlike day, the whole of that month being unusually mild and sunny.
Nesting: The American goldeneye, so far as I know, invariably places its nest in a cavity in a tree, preferably in a large natural cavity and often entirely open at the top. Considerable variation is shown in the selection of a suitable nesting site, which depends on the presence of hollow trees. Near Eskimo Point, on the south coast of the Labrador Peninsula, I found a nest on June 10,1909, ~n a white birch stub on the hare crest of a gravel cliff over 100 feet above the beach. The stub, which stood in an entirely open place, was 6 feet in circumference and about 18 feet high, broken and open at the top down to about 12 feet from the ground. A female goldeneye flew out of the large cavity, in which were 15 handsome, green eggs on a soft bed of rotten chips and white down. The nest was about a foot below the front edge of the cavity. I have never seen another nest in such an open and exposed situation.
Mr. Brewster (1900) found this species breeding abundantly at Lake Umbagog, in Maine, in 1907, and made some valuable and interesting observations on its breeding habits. About the location of its nest, he says:
All the whistlers’ nests which I have examined have been placed over water at heights varying from 0 or S to 50 or 60 feet and in cavities in the trunks of large hardwood trees such as elms, maples, and yellow or canoe birches. As the supply of such cavities is limited, even where dead or decaying trees abound, and as the birds have no means of enlarging or otherwise Improving them; they are not fastidious in their choice, but readily make use of any opening which can be made to serve their purpose. Thus it happens that the nest is sometimes placed at the bottom of a hollow trunk, 6, 10, or even 15 feet below the hole at which the bird enters, at others on a level with and scarce a foot back from the entrance, which is usually rounded. antI from 6 to 15 inches in diameter. but occasionally is so small and irregular that the whistler must have difficulty in forcing its bulky body through. I remember one nest to which the only access was by means of a vertical slit so narrow and jagged that it would barely admit iuy flattened hand.
In North Dakota, in 1901, we found goldeneyes nesting commonly in the timber belts around the shores of the lakes and along the streams in the Stump Lake region.
The goldeneyes choose for their nesting sites the numerous natural cavities which occur in many of the larger trees. They seem to show no preference as to the kind of tree and not much preference as to the size of the cavity, any cavity which is large enough to conceal them being satisfactory.
The occupied cavity can usually be easily recognized by the presence of one or two pieces of white down clinging to its edges; sometimes considerable of the down is also scattered about on the nearest branches. The first nest that we found, on May 30, was in an exceedingly small cavity in a dead branch of a small elm, about 10 feet from the ground. We heard a great scrambling and scratching going on inside, as the duck climbed up to the small opening, through which she wriggled out with some difficulty and flew away. I measured the opening carefully and found it only 3 inches wide by ~½ inches high; the cavity was about 3 feet deep and measured 6 inches by 7 inches at the bottom. The fresh eggs which it contained were lying on the bare chips at the bottom of the cavity, surrounded by a little white down.
On June 1 we explored a large tract of heavy timber on a promontory extending out into the lake for about half a mile, where we located five nests of the American goldeneye. The first nest was about 20 feet up. in a cavity in the trunk of a large swamp oak and contained 4 eggs, apparently fresh. The second was in the trunk of a large elm and held only 1 egg, evidently a last year’s egg. The third, which held 5 eggs, was in an open cavity in an elm stub about 12 feet from the ground. None of these eggs were taken and doubtless the sets were incomplete. While climbing to a Krider hawk’s nest I noticed an elm stub nearby with a large open cavity in the top, which on closer investigation was found to contain a goldeneye’s nest with 10 eggs buried in a mass of white down. The stub was about 10 feet high and the cavity about 2 feet deep; the bird was not on the nest, but the eggs proved to have been incubated about one week. A pair of western house wrens also had a nest in the dead branch above the cavity.
The fifth and last nest was found while walking along the shore, by seeing the goldeneye fly out over our heads from a small swsmp oak on the edge of the woods. I could almost reach the large open cavity from the ground; the opening was well decorated with the tell-tale down, and at the bottom of the cavity, 2 feet deep, was a set of 14 eggs, in which incubation had begun, and one addled last year’s egg, completely buried in a profusion of white down, so well matted together that it could be lifted from the eggs without falling apart, like a soft warm blanket.
In the Lake Winnipegosis region in Manitoba, where large hollow trees are scarce, we found the goldeneyes making the best of rather poor accommodations. We examined four nests all of which were in small, hollow burr oaks (Quercu.s macro carpa) which were about the only trees in which suitable hollows could be found; the entrances to all of these nests were not over 5 feet from the ground; in some cases the trees were so badly split that the eggs were partially exposed to wind and rain and much of the down from the nests had been blown out onto surrounding trees and bushes; two such nests, found on June 2, with incomplete sets, were at the bottoms of large cavities, practically on a level with the ground in old stubs so badly cracked that the eggs were plainly visible. We were told that the “wood ducks,” as they are called, would desert their nests if the eggs were handled, which proved to be true in the only two instances where we tried it.
According to Mr. John Macoun (1909) a nest was found by Mr. William Spreadhorough “in a hollow cottonwood log on the ground,” near Indian Head, Saskatchewan. He also quotes Mr. G. IR. White as saying that the “nest is composed of grass, leaves, and moss and lined with feathers.” I have never seen anything but rotten chips and down in a goldeneye’s nest, ‘and I doubt if any outside material is ever brought in. Probably the duck does not always take the trouble to clean out a cavity, but lays its eggs on whatever accumulation of rubbish happens to be there. The down is added as incubation advances until a thick warm blanket is provided to cover the eggs, when necessary, during the absence of the bird. I have a beautiful nest of this species in my collection, taken in 1901, with a thickly matted down quilt over the eggs which, though repeatedly handled, has retained its shape and consistency up to the present time.
According to Rev. F. C. R. Jourdain the goldeneye has been frequently induced to nest in nesting boxes in Germany. Mr. A. D. Henderson tells me that he has tried the experiment successfully near Belvedere, Alberta.
The down in the goldeneye’s nest is large, light and fluffy; it is practically pure white in color. The breast feathers in it are pure, white.
Eggs: The goldeneye ordinarily lays from 8 to 12 eggs; 5 or 6 eggs sometimes complete the set; I have found as many as 15 and Mr. Brewster has found 19. Mr. Brewster (1900) thinks that two females sometimes lay in the same nest, and says “several of the rounded, pure white, thick shelled eggs of the hooded merganser are somtimes included in a set of the green, thin-shelled eggs of the whistler.”
The eggs of the goldeneye are handsome and easily distinguished from those of any other North American duck except its near relative, the Barroxv goldeneye. In shape they vary from elliptical oval to elliptical ovate; a few specimens before me are almost ovate. The shell is thin, with a dull luster. The color is usually a clear, pale “malachite green,” varying in the darker specimens to a more olivaceous or” pale chromium green “; various shades of color often occur in the same set. The measurements of 84 eggs, in various collections, average 59.1 by 43.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 65 by 44, 59 by 45.5, 48.8 by 43.5, and 59 by 41.2 millimeters.
Young: Incubation is performed entirely by the female and lasts for a period of about 20 days. Only one brood is raised in a season. The young remain in the nest for a day of two, until they are strong enough to make the perilous descent to the ground or water. Many of the earlier writers have asserted that this, and other species of tree-nesting ducks, carry the young to the nearest water in their bills, but their observations seem to be based largely on hearsay or on insufficient evidence. Mr. Brewster’s (1900) study of this species has given us positive evidence to the contrary. Although he personally missed the opportunity of seeing the performance, his trustworthy assistant, R. A. Gilbert, gave the following graphic account of what he saw, when the young were ready to leave the nest:
At 6.45 the old duck appeared at the entrance to the nest, where she sat for five minutes moving her head continually and looking about in every direction included within her field of vision; then she sank back out of sight, reappearing at the end of a minute and looking about as before for another five minutes. At the end of this second period of observation she flew down to the water and swam round the stub three times, clucking and caillun. On completing the third round she stopped directly under the hole and gave a single loud cluck or call, when the ducklings began scramblina up to the entran~ and dropping down to the water in such quick succession as to fall on top of one another. They literally poured out of the nest much as shot would fall from one’s hand. One or two hesitated or paused for an instant on reaching the mouth of the hole, but the greater number toppled out over the edge as soon as they appeared. All used their tiny wings freely, beating them continuously as they descended. They did not seem to strike the water with much force.
While this was going on the old duck sat motionless on the water looking up at the nest. When the last duckling dropped at her side she at once swam off at the head of the brood, quickly disappearing in a flooded thicket a few rods away.
Dr. IV. N. Macartney (1918) observed a similar performance near Dundee, Quebec; he writes:
On the afternoon of July 7 the old duck was seen at the foot of the tree standing on the ground. She gave several low quacks or calls, and out of the hole in the tree overhead promptly tumbled about a baker’s dozen of fledgling ducks. They were unable to fly, but were sufficiently groiva to be able to ease their fall to the earth, and not unlike a flock of butterflies, they came down pell-mell, fluttering and tumbling, some of them heels over head, until they reached the ground, unharmed. The tree was nearly but not quite perpendicular, so they were unable to scramble down. The old bird gathered them in a hunch and piloted them along the fence for some 3 or 4 rods to the river. Down the rocky shore they went and into the water. The old duck then sank low in the water and the ducklings gathered over her back in a compact clump. She took them across the bay to a bed of rushes, some 10 rods distant, where they disappeared from sight.
Very little seems to be known about the food of th&young, but probably they are fed largely on insects and soft animal food. Dr. Charles W. Toxvnsend (1913) gives the following account of the behavior of a mother goldeneye and her young on a Labrador stream:
The old bird crouched low in the water, her golden eyes shining very prominently, and uttered hoarse rasping croaks. The young, whose eyes were gray-blue and inconspicuous, at once scattered, diving repeatedly, and dis. appeared in the bushes, while the mother kept prominently in view within 20 yards of the canoe leading us downstream. After repeatedly swimming and flying short distances ahead of the canoe for half a mile or so, croaking all the time, she disappeared around a bend and undoubtedly flew back to the young. Near at hand the young made no sound, but at a distance a loud beseeching peep was uttered.
Plumages: The downy young goldeneye is quite distinctively colored and marked; it also has a carriage all its own, for it walks in a more upright position than other young ducks and it carries its head in a more loftly and perky attitude, which gives it a very smart appearance. The upper part of the head, down to a line running straight back from the commissure to the nape, is deep, rich, glossy “bone brown”; the throat and cheeks are pure white, the white spaces nearly meeting on the hind neck; the upper parts vary from pale “clove brown” on the upper back to deep “bone brown” on the rump; these colors shade off to “hair brown” on the sides and form a ring of the same around the neck; the posterior edges of the wings are white, and there is a white spot on each scapular region and one on each side of the rump; the belly is white. The colors become paler with age.
The first feathers appear on the flanks and scapulars and then in the tail while the bird is very small. According to Millais (1913)
Three nestlings hatched by Mr. Blaauw, at Goollust, in Holland, on June 20. 1908. heran to show feathers on the scapulars on July 18th. On August 8 they were completely feathered except for the flight feathers, which were just beginning to grow. At this date the irides were chocolate brown and the legs and toes yellowish. On August 25 the young birds were able to fly.
Early in the fall, as soon as the young birds have attained their full growth, the first winter plumage begins to develop. This plumage in the male is entirely different from the adult plumage and closely resembles that of the female. The young male may be distinguished from the female by its decidedly larger size; it also has less gray on the breast (which decreases toward spring), the back is darker gray, the head is darker and more or less mottled with dusky, and there ts a more or less distinct suggestion of the white loral spot, which increases toward spring. This plumage is worn all through the first winter and spring, with slight and gradual changes toward maturity by a limited growth of new feathers; the head becomes darker and greener, the lord spot whiter, and the scapulars are changed. Individuals vary greatly in the time and extent of these changes. I have a young male in my collection, taken on May 27, which is still in the first winter plumage. In July the young male passes into the eclipse plumage, in which it can be distinguished from the adult by the wings, which are not molted until later. The change from the eclipse into the adult winter plumage is very slow in young birds, lasting well into the winter, and it is not until this molt is completed that old and young birds become lndistinguishable.
The adult male assumes a semieclipse plumage late in July or in August, involving principally the head and neck, which becomes brown and mottled like that of the young male; the white loral spot partially disappears; the scapulars resemble those of the young male, and there are brownish feathers in the flanks. This is followed by a complete molt into the winter plumage, which is sometimes prolonged until late in the fall, but not so late as in the young bird.
The molts and plumages of the female are parallel with those of the male, but old and young birds are not so easily recognized. I believe that specimens showing the orange zone in the bill and the well-marked black band across the white space in the wing are old birds. The white neck of the adult female is acquired during the first spring.
Food: While with us on the coast the goldeneye feeds largely on small mussels and other mollusks, which it obtains by diving in deep water or by dabbling in the shallows near the shore, it feeds to some extent also on the seeds of eel grass (Zo8tera marina). The stomach of a bird taken by Dr. John C. Phillips (1911) in a lake in Massachusetts “contained seeds of pondweed, water lily, bayberry, and burr reed, buds and roots of wild celery, and bits of water boatmen, and dragonfly nymphs.”
On the Pacific coast Mr. W. J~. Dawson (1909) found it feeding on mussels, crabs, marine worms, and on the remains of decayed salmon. On inland streams it may often be seen in the rapids chasing young trout fry or other small fish; tadpoles, fish spawn, and the larvae of insects are also eaten. Audubon discovered it hunting for cray-fish in the clay banks of our inland rivers. Throughout the interior, in fresh-water lakes and streams, it lives largely on vegetable food; it feeds on a great variety of aquatic plants, such as teal moss (LimnoMum), flags (Iris), duckweed, pondweed, water plantain, and bladderwort, according to Doctor Yorke (1899).
Behavior: The flight of the goldeneye is exceedingly swift and strong. About its breeding grounds among the lakes and streams of eastern Canada it is very active on the wing, circling high in the air about the lakes or flying up and down the streams above the tree tops, singly or in pairs, the female usually leading; it seems to show some curiosity or anxiety as to the intentions of the intruder, for it often repeats its flight again and again over the same course. The vibrant whistling of its wings in flight is audible at a long distance and has earned for it the popular name of “whistler” or “whistle: wino-” Mr. W. L. Dawson (1909) has thus graphically described it:
Of all wing music, from the droning of the rufous hummer to the startling whirr of the ruffed grouse, I know of none so thrilling sweet as the whistling wing note of the goldeneye. A pair of the birds have been frightened from the water, and as they rise in rapid circles to gain a view of some distant goal they sow the air with vibrant whistling sounds. Owing to a difference in wing beats between male and female, the brief moment when the wings strike in unison with the effect of a single bird is followed by an ever-changing syncopation which challenges the waiting ear to tell if it does not hear a dozen birds instead of only two. Again, in the dim twilight of early morning, while the birds are moving from a remote and secure lodging place to feed in some favorite stretch of wild water, one guesses at their early Industry from the sound of multitudinous wings above, contending with the cold ether.
When migrating, goldeneyes travel in small flocks usually high in the air. When rising from a pond they usually circle about for a few times, gradually climbing upward, and fly off at a considerable height; even on the seashore they are seldom seen flying for any distance close to the water. They can usually be recognized by their short necks, large heads, and stout bodies, as well as by the large amount of white in their plumage. This latter character has given them the name of “pied duck” or “pie bird” among the natives of the eastern Provinces.
The goldeneye is an expert diver; and alt at times it uses both wings and feet under water, its method of diving, with wings pressed close to the sides, shows that it generally uses its feet alone. Dr. Arthur A. Allen writes to me that he has “seen goldeneyes using their wings, half spread, when feeding normally.” When undisturbed it dives with great ease; the bill is pointed forward until it touches the water, when the bird slips out of sight without an effort, causing hardly a ripple. But when alarmed it plunges forward and downward with great vigor, cleaving the water as it does so.
Mr. F. S. Hersey timed a goldeneye diving and found that it dove with great regularity, remaining under for 21 seconds and on the surface for 13 seconds between dives. Although it usually feeds in rather shallow water, it can dive to great depths in search of shellfish if necessary; for this reason it is called “le plongeur” by the French residents of southern Labrador.
J. G. Millais (1913) narrates the following interesting incident, illustrating its power as a plunger:
No ducks are more bold in the “headers,” they will take from the clouds when pursued by a raptorial bird. I was collecting birds one day in February, 1882, on Loch Leven, the Inverness-shire sea loch, when I heard the sound of goldeneye, accompanied by a peculiar hum of something passing through the air. On looking up I was just in time to see the interesting spectacle of a peregrine making a stoop at three goldeneyes. The ducks at this moment were high, I should say 80 yards in the air, and closed their wings as they heard or saw the peregrine coming, and dropped as if shot to the surface of the water. On striking the water there was no pause, they just passed out of sight, rising nearly 100 yards away, and flying low over the water. The peregrine, after its unsuccessful “stoop,” did not pursue them. Like the long-tailed duck, hut scarcely with the same skill in starting, the goldeneye has the power of opening Its wings immediately on reaching the surface of the water, and commencing to fly. I have seen other ducks act in a similar manner when chased by peregrines, but none displayed such promptitude or fell from such a height as did these goldeneyes.
He says further:
In clear water it is easy to note the powerful strokes of the legs of these ducks, which seem to beat with great rapidity under water and much power. The stroke is more or less parallel to the wings; the head is held out straight in front. I have watched for hours the male goldeneye that lived for three years on the Island below Perth bridge, and used to find his food at the botiota of the river In some 8 to 10 feet of water. In summer this water was as clear as crystal, and from the bridge above the observer could note every movement on the part of the bird. It always proceeded to a depth of 8 to 10 feet of water, and began to dive. On reaching the bottom, it at once commenced to turn the stones over with the bill, and from under these various water insects were found or caught as they attempted to escape. Sometimes It would find a small batch of young fresh-water mussels, and these It would devour very quickly one after the other, like a duck taking grain out of a pan. It never stayed under water more than a minute, even when finding food abundant in one spot, but came up, rested a moment or two on the surface, and dived again. All food was swallowed where it was found, and small pebbles and fairly large stones were pushed over in the search. Several times I saw the bird just move a flat stone. It would go all around it and try it from every point If unsuccessful it would come to the surface anti rest awhile, and then go down again for another effort. In a lake the goldeneye. will dive in perpendicular position, hut in flowing water it dives in a slant against the stream or tideway. Their bodies are very light, and bounce up to tile surface like a cork immediately they cease to push downward with the feet. In still water the goldeneye often dives in circles to get to the bottom.
The goldeneye is not much given to vocal performances. The courtship note of the male has been described by Doctor Townsend (1910) as “a harsh, rasping, double note, zzee -at, vibratory and searching in character.” Elon H. Eaton (1910) says that the male when startled or lost has a sharp cur-r-rew. Edward H. Forbush (1912) credits the female with “a single xvhistling peep.” And Ora XV. Knight (1908) has “heard the parents utter a low-pitched quack to call their young.” M. P. Skinner says that “the qilack of this duck seems harsher than the mallard’s.”
Game: During the four years that I lived on the coast our most interesting winter sport was whistler shooting. Long before daylight we braved the winter’s cold and pushed out our skiff to our blind among the ice cakes. We wore white nightgowns over our clothes, white caps and gloves, and sometimes had our gun barrels whitewashed, for the goldeneyes are very wary birds and it is necessary to remain motionless and invisible to be successful. The wooden decoys are placed, as soon as it is light enough to see, in some convenient open space, preferably off the mouth of some fresh-water creek. The blind is made of ice cakes or snow, high enough to conceal the gunners. With the coming of the daylight birds begin to move; large gray gulls are seen flapping slowly up the bay to feed on the mud flats; a flock of black ducks flies out from an open spring hole where it has been feeding all night. The winter sunrise is beautiful, as the rosy dawn creeps up from the cold, gray sea and sends a ~varm glow of color over floating ice and banks of snow. Our eyes are trained seaward to catch the first glimpses of incoming whistlers. At last a black speck is dimly discerned in the distance against a pink cloud; on it comes straight toward the blind, and we recognize it as an old cock whistler, the advance guard of the morning flight; he circles, sets his wings and scales down over the decoys; in our eagerness we betray ourselves by a sudden movement; he sees us and scrambles upward into the air to escape, but it is too late, the guns speak and the first kill is scored. Soon a small flock of five birds comes in, the shrill whistling of their wings sending a thrill of pleasure through our chilled veins; they scale down toward the decoys, but see the blind, wheel, and fly off without offering us a shot; they settle in the water away off among the floating ice and it is useless to stalk them. We have been too conspicuous to the keen eyes of the birds and must conceal ourselves better; so we pile up more ice around the blind and keep more (JLiiet. Better luck follows in consequence, for the ducks decoy well, if their suspicions are not aroused. and during the next two hours we have good sport. By the time the early Inorninn flioht is over. an hour or two after sunrise, we have had enough of it and are glad to return home with a small bag of the keen-wit.ted goldeneyes.
Winter: To the residents of Ne~v England the hardy goldeneye. or “whistler” as it is more often called, is known chiefly as a winter resident or an early spring and late fall migrant, mainly along the seacoast now, though formerly. when less persecuted by gunners, it was often seen in inland ponds. where it is now seldom seen. It is an exceedingly wary and sagacious bird, soon learning to desert dangerous localities, but frequenting freely and regularly such places as the Back Bay basin in the city of Boston, where it is free from molestation.
On the coast. goldeneyes spend their days playing or feeding off the beaches, just beyond the breakers. swimming about among the ice cakes or flying into the tidal estuaries to feed. At night they usually fly off shore, where they can sleep in safety. bedded on the open ocean. They leave the marshes or ponds near the sea at. or within a few minutes of, sunset.
Goldeneyes linger to spend the winter as far north as they can find open water, in the interior as well as on the coast. In the swift rapids and open air holes of our large rivers they find congenial resorts as far north as Iowa, where they congregate in thousands. E. S. Currier (1902) says of the winter habits of the goldeneye on the Mississippi River:
The goldeneyes are very playful nn(l. as spring approaches, noisy. The swift current is constantly forcing them toward the ice at the lower end of the pool, so that they are obliged to take wing and go to the other end of the air hole frequently. They rise on rapidly beating wings, the clear whistling ringing across the dark water and white ice fields, and scurrying upstream In irregular groups, drop in again with a noisy splash. This drifting down and flying hack again seems to be enjoyed as much by the ducks as is coasting by the children.
Each group of arrivals is received with many bows and much flapping of wings by the ones on the ~vater, and rho penetrating cry of the drakes speer” “speer” reaches to a great distance. It ~S a scene of great activity from daylight until darkness sets in. and iiinkes winter less dreary to the birds of this locality.
The greatest movements take place about sundown when they all head for a favorite air hole (usually the largest) on whirring wings. Here they settle in with much bustle and confusion, playing and feeding until darkness sets in. They spend a great part of the night on thin, new ice at the edge of the opeii water. As a rule, unless migration is on or the ice is running, there is little movement during the night; but frequently you hear the noisy whistling of the wings of some belated or distikbed bird, soon followed by the distant splash as it strikes the water again.
As winter abates and the increasing ~varmth causes the ice to give way, followed by the great break-up as the ice goes out, the duck is at its best. The moving ice fields then keep them on the watch, and as the open water they are in narrows, they spring up and fly over the grinding, churning mass, drop into the next clear space upstream.
The instant they hit the water they go to playing, chasing each other, and diving to great distances. At times a part of the flock will rise and depart for some distant open water, soon followed by others, and then perhaps by the remainder, and that particular place will be deserted by them for the time being. Again they will congregate in an open space with the ice rumbling and roaring around them on all sides, seemingly loath to leave, but when another change takes place in the ice and a block sweeps toward them they are forced to leave.
Goldeneyes are often common on the larger northern lakes as long as they remain unfrozen; sometimes they are caught in the ice or perish through inability to find open water; but they are so hardy and such strong fliers that they do not suffer so much in~this way as some other species.
M. P. Skinner hassent me the following notes on the winter habits of the goldeneye in the Yellowstone National Park:
The goldeneye is a winter visitor in the proportion of one male to three females. Usually these ducks frequent the larger lakes and streams, but I once found some in~a pool of Pelican Creek under the lee of a high bank, and frequently on the reservoir near Mammoth where they dive for their food. Once I flushed a single bird from an irrigation ditch 0 feet wide. In winter, the only time they are at all common, they frequent the streams (Gardiner, Firehole, and Gibbon Rivers) kept open by hot ~vater from hot springs and geysers. They are seldom seen on shore or standing on stones, although I have seen them on the edge of the ice along the Lamar River.
These birds are wilder than the more common Barrow goldeneye; they are here so short a time that they remain exceptions to the general rule that the wildfowl become extremely tame under the absolute protection afforded. Whenever they see me approaching they will swim together in a dense flock. They like swift water and are experts at shooting do~vn the rapids. They are at times associated with hufileheads and mallard; sometimes this goldeneye and the Barrows are together, but more often the two species keep apart. Possibly rivalry of males extends to their cousins, but this is a weak explanation, for the Barrow males are often amicable among themselves when in small flocks containing both sexes.
The European goldeneye, which is supposed to be subspecifically distinct from our bird. may be added to our list on the strength of the capture of a female, supposed to be of the European race, on St. Paul Island, Alaska, on November 27, 1914, reported by Dr. G. Dallas Hanna (1916). He says of this specimen:
It is the same size as specimens from the Commander Islands and China; and while these are somewhat larger than birds from the Atlantic coast region of Europe, they are smaller than those from continental North America.
Breeding range: The North American form breeds mainly north of the United States, entirely across the continent. South to Newfoundland (Humber and Sandy Rivers), northern New Brunswick (Northumberland County), central Maine (Washington to Oxford Counties), New Hampshire (Umbagog Lake and Jefferson region), northern Vermont (St. Johnsbury), northern New York (Adirondacks), northern Michigan (Neebish Island, Sault Ste. Marie), northern Minnesota (Lake County); northern North Dakota (Devils Lake), northwestern Montana (Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park), and the interior of British Columbia. North to the limits of heavy timber in central Alaska (Yukon Valley), southern Mackenzie (Fort Rae, Great Slave Lake), the southwest coast of Hudson Bay (York Factory), and the northeast coast of Labrador (near Nain). Replaced in northern Europe and Asia by a closely allied race.
Winter range: Cold coasts and large lakes south of frozen areas. On the Atlantic coast commonly from Maine to South Carolina; more rarely north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland and south to northern Florida (Wakulla County). Rarely to the Gulf coasts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. On the Pacific coast from the Commander and Aleutian Islands to southern California (San Diego) and casually to central western Mexico (Mazatlan). On the Great Lakes (Michigan, Erie, and Ontario). Irregularly north in the interior to southern British Columbia (Okanogan Lake), northwestern Montana (Teton County), and the valleys of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, as far as Nebraska and Iowa; and south to Colorado (Beasley Lake and Barr Lake) and Arkansas (Big Lake) and occasionally to Arizona (Tucson) and Texas (Galveston and Corpus Christi).
Spring migration: Northward and north westward and away from the coasts. Early dates of arrival: Southern Maine, inland, March 27; Quebec, Montreal, March 19; Ontario, Ottawa, February 14; Minnesota, Heron Lake, March 14; Manitoba, southern, March 29; Alberta, Edmonton, April 6; Montana, Great Falls, March 9; Mackenzie, Fort Resolution, May 7, and Fort Simpson, April 28; Alaska, Nulato, May 3.
Average dates of arrival: Southern Maine, inland, April 5; Quebec, Montreal, April 4, and Lake Mistassini, May 3; Ontario, Ottawa, April 12; Minnesota, Heron Lake, March 25; northern North Dakota, April 20; southern Manitoba, April 21. Leaves the Massachusetts coast by May 1 or earlier.
Fall migration: Southward and southeastward and toward the coasts.
Early dates of arrival: Massachusetts, October 8; Virginia, Alexandria, October 8. Average dates of arrival: Massachusetts, Woods Hole, November 15; Virginia, Alexandria, October 26 ; Iowa, Keokuk, November 24. Late dates of departure: Quebec, Montreal, November 7; Manitoba, Axveme, November 10.
Casual records: Four records for Bermuda (April 10, 1854; December 29, 1874; February 5, 1875; and January 22, 1876). Two records for Pribilof Islands (May 6, 1917, and January 1, 1918). Accidental in Cuba and Barbados.
Egg dates: North Dakota: Nineteen records, May 10 to June 11; 10 records, May 21 to June 1. Manitoba: Five records, June 2 to July 5. Labrador Peninsula: Three records, May 3 to June 30.