Birds of Chignik Lake: Barrow’s Goldeneye – a Duck that will Nest in a Box

This fortuitous capture illustrates three key diagnostic differences distinguishing Barrow’s Goldeneye (forward) from the Common Goldeneye (back). 1) The back of the Barrow’s is distinctively more black. 2) The Barrow’s white facial marking is crescent-shaped as opposed to the Common’s rounded patch. 3) The Barrow’s crown is more flattened; the Common’s has a rounded peak. Still, the two species are similar enough that it pays to glass flocks. Females are so similar as to be difficult to distinguish. (January 14, 2019)

Barrow’s Goldeneyes visit the lake and river just frequently enough to make it worthwhile to keep a look out for them. My records indicate that we encountered at least one specimen each of the three years of this study, always a distinctively marked drake. However, one of those sightings involved a bird mixed with a flock of mergansers and (probably) female and juvenile Common Goldeneyes that was so far off I didn’t pick it out till I put the photo I’d taken on my computer.

Depending on their position, it can require a sharp eye to spot a Barrow’s among a group of Commons. Got your pick? Keep reading to see if you nailed it. (Chignik Lake, January 14, 2019)

Near Lake Myvatn in Iceland, Europe’s only population of Barrow’s Goldeneyes nests in holes and crevices in lava fields. The population of about 200 birds is enhanced with nesting boxes locals have installed on the sides of barns and other structures, showing that in many cases a lack of nesting sites limits bird populations, while adding additional sites can help a population thrive.

Nesting boxes for ducks (and other birds) needn’t be complicated. These examples are supplied with nesting material to get things started. Note the mesh screening on the door below each hole – very important. It’s there so that the tiny ducklings can use their strong little legs and feet to climb out of the box on that magical day when mom calls them to enter the world. Photo By: Master Sgt. April WickesReleased

Want to help out ducks in your area? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website has loads of information on everything from building nesting boxes to sharing the information you collect with the Lab’s scientists. Check it out!

(In the photo of the group of Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye above, did you pick the third bird from the right?)

Barrow’s Goldeneye Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World

Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Bucephala:  Ancient Greek, boukephalos = bullheaded
islandica: Latinized, of Iceland

Status at Chignik Lake, 2016-19: Uncommon on Chignik Lake and Chignik River

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Only One Sighting Recorded – a Drake

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010Rare in All Seasons

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present

loon silhouette

Previous: Common Goldeneye

Next Article: Bufflehead – Our Smallest Diving Duck

*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.