12 Jul 2011

The Magnificent Golden Eye duck

Golden Eye Ducks synchronized flight

The weather has been abysmal throughout most of June.  In fact it has rained so much that several of the ponds I visit have overflowed their natural boundaries.  As a result I haven't been able to go out much on bird watch.  Not because I don't like the rain, but because my camera equipment doesn't.

So I did what I usually do when I can't get out for long periods of time.  I gathered information about birds and went through my collection of photos in preparation for new blog posts.  As I was sorting through my photos on this occasion, I noticed that I have quite a few half decent photos of the beautiful Golden Eye Duck.  Like most people I am attracted to color, especially if it includes lots of contrast.

Golden Eye Duck Males
The Golden Eye duck has color in plenty, even though at first glance it doesn't seem that way.  However the first thing that will grab your attention about the male of this species, is his striking combination of black and white.  A closer view, in bright sunlight, will reveal the green iridescence of his head, although you might notice his golden eyes first.

Even the female of this species is quite striking with her golden eyes and brown and white color.  It was the golden eyes of the female of the species which first called my attention to this duck.  That and her size.  Golden Eye ducks are quite small when compared to the Mallard duck.
Golden eye duck female
Two of the species of Golden Eye duck are very similar in appearance.  The Golden Eye duck  featured here is the Common Golden Eye.  The other, which I have yet to come across, is the Barrow's Golden Eye. Unfortunately the Barrow's is seen less often.  Although when they are seen, it will usually be within a group of Common Golden Eye ducks.

Male in flight
When searching for the Barrow's Golden Eye, look for a blue iridescent sheen on the head of the male.  The Barrow's Golden Eye also has a tear drop shaped white spot, which curves upward around the bill, while the Common Golden Eye has a large rounded spot, as you can clearly see in these photos.  The Barrow's Golden eye has several prominent white bars in diagonal on both wings.  In comparison, the Common Golden Eye has several gracefully thin black lines which streak his sides, as you can see in the photo below. 

Female take off
Common Golden Eye male

The Golden Eye duck is a diving duck.  They can dive up to 20 feet below the water's surface to forage for food, such as aquatic plants and crustacians.  They prefer the fresh water bodies in the Boreal Forest in summer and nest in tree cavities, like those excavated by the Pileated woodpecker, although they will use nest boxes if nothing else is available.  In winter they prefer salt water, usually in shallow, sheltered coves on the coastline.

Pair of Golden Eye Ducks taking off
This species of duck is surprisingly aggressive given it's size.  I have seen the male dive beneath the water in order to attack another duck from below, be it another Golden Eye or a larger Mallard.  However, it is also easily startled.  If you wish to enjoy viewing this species of ducks, be sure to move in a relaxed and slow manner.


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