Minnesota Profile: Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
As Minnesota lakes freeze over in November, one of the last ducks to budge is the common goldeneye. Named for its amber-colored eyes, this species breeds in most of northern Minnesota, throughout forested areas of Canada, and into Alaska. It winters wherever open water is present and along both coasts.
Goldeneyes are known by many names, including whistler, whiffler, garrot, bull-head, copper-head, and brass-eye. Bucephala is from the Greek word boukephalos, which means ox-headed or buffalo-headed, in reference to the bird's big-looking head. Clangula is Latin for "small noise," a reference to the whistling sound made by the bird's wings in flight.
Predominantly black and white, goldeneyes show more white than any other Minnesota duck. Females have brown heads. Males have bright white cheek patches on a green-black head. Both genders have short, shiny, black leatherlike bills. Goldeneyes are strong fliers, and in flight their medium-sized bodies appear stout with short necks and large heads.
Male goldeneyes have the most spectacular spring courtship display of any waterfowl, with much head pumping, neck stretching, and splashing, and short jumps or flights off the water.
Strong swimmers, they submerge for as long as 40 seconds and dive to depths of 20 feet for food. About 75 percent of their diet is animal (crustaceans, insects, clams, fish) and 25 percent plant (seeds, roots, tubers).
The total North American population is about 1.5 million (compared with 10 million mallards, for example). Continental populations are fairly stable, but a Minnesota survey found that, for reasons unknown, breeding pairs declined by 50 percent on some northern lakes from 1959 to 1988.
--Dave Schad, DNR Wetland Wildlife Program Coordinator