Mystery Bird: Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

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[Mystery bird] Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula, photographed in Arizona Fremont, California. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Collin M Jensen, 25 April 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
A brown duck. The fact that the plumage comprises solid blocks of color rather than complex patterns makes this a diving duck, and the largely white sides and breast should make us think of one of the “sea ducks.” Scoters are darker, eiders more finely patterned, but this looks just right for a young male goldeneye.
The large, rather eider-like bill is enough, it seems to me, to identify this as a Common Goldeneye, but there’s another mark that clinches the identification. The scapulars — the long feathers of the “shoulder” extending down over the folded wing — are coming in with long white stripes, quite different from the corresponding feathers in Barrow’s Goldeneye, which are black with neat white squares. The head shape, too, with a steep forehead and flat crown, is different from the high-peaked triangle of Barrow’s Goldeneye.
Goldeneye identification is not as easy as I used to think, and the diagnosis of any given individual can be complicated by the promiscuity of both goldeneyes, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser. But I’d happily call this bird a Common Goldeneye if I saw it in the field.
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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

  1. RM says:

    Due to the black bill, I’ll say common goldeneye hen. The abundance of white puzzles me, however.

  2. Albatrossity says:

    That Arizona sun sure seems to bleach out the birds there!
    Common Goldeneye female, based on the eye, the extent of dark(ish) color on the back, the slope of the bill/head angle, and the size/shape of the bill.

  3. JohnB says:

    a first-winter Common Goldeneye. The shape of the head is more suggestive of Common than Barrow’s.

  4. Smilodon says:

    Common Goldeneye. It has a much bigger bill and a more sloping forehead than a Barrow’s Goldeneye has.

  5. 1hen2ducks says:

    That’s yer basic Goldeneye due in part to it’s eye.
    It’s eye is . . . . well…. gold in color.
    The yellow feet seal the deal for me though.
    or maybe it’s a Goldenfoot