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Barrow's Goldeneye

Bucephala islandica

Length: 18 inches Wingspan: 30 inches Seasonality: Winter / Migrant
ID Keys: White crescent spot on face, yellow eye, purplish sheen on black head.

Barrow's Goldeneye - Bucephala islandicaMuch less common in the state than it's close cousin, the Common Goldeneye, the Barrow's Goldeneye is generally a casual winter visitor.  The two species can be identified by the differing shape of the the males' facial white spots.  Barrow's Goldeneyes strongly prefer cold, inland waters for breeding, and have also recently adapted their winter range to include cold discharge waters below large dams in the southwestern United States.


Breeds on cold waters of the interior of northwestern North America, including ponds, small lakes, and rivers.  Most wintering birds are found in coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, but can also be found in the interior where open water is available.


Insects and insect larvae, crustaceans, mollusks, and plant material, and occasionally small fish.


A diving duck, obtaining nearly all its food by diving underwater and propelling itself with its feet in search of food.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. On its breeding grounds, the Barrow's Goldeneye builds its nest in a tree cavity, or sometimes in a other cavity like a rocky crevice. In lieu of any suitable cavities, they will also sometimes use a heavily protected location on the ground. The nest is simple and primarily consists of down from the female.  She lays 5 to 15 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The eggs hatch after about 4 weeks. The young leave the nest after a day or two and feed themselves, but are protected by the female.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of Barrow's Goldeneye sightings


Barrow's Goldeneyes are not a very vocal species, but there are some guttural croaking, and various catlike squeals from males during courtship.  They also have a distinctive whistling sound given off by the wings in flight. Females also have some vocalizations that are generally only heard on their breeding grounds:

1Click here to hear the vocalizations of a female near a nesting site, recorded in Alaska.

2Click here to hear the vocalizations of a pair of males, recorded in Alaska.

3Click here to hear the wing noises of a Barrow's Goldeneye in flight, recorded in Alaska. 


Summers throughout much of northwestern North America, with smaller numbers in eastern Canada.  Winters throughout many of the same areas, although many in Canada and Alaska move to the Pacific Coast.  

Similar Species:

Very similar in overall appearance to the Common Goldeneye.

Conservation Status:

Numbers appear to be stable throughout their normal range, with some indications of increases in recent decades. The IUCN considers the Barrow's Goldeneye to be a species of "Least Concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot":

There is no "hotspot" where you are guaranteed to find a Barrow's Goldeneye in South Dakota, as they are but a rare visitor to the state. However, in recent years, Canyon Lake within Rapid City has sometimes held a Barrow's Goldeneye in the winter.

Further Information:

1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Barrow's Goldeneye

2) Audubon Guide - Barrow's Goldeneye

3) WhatBird - Barrow's Goldeneye

Photo Information:

Top photo courtesy of  Andrew Reding - Taken near Bellingham Washington, March 31st, 2014 -- Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

Audio File Credits:

1Andrew Spencer, XC143932. Accessible at

2Andrew Spencer, XC76291. Accessible at

3Davyd Betchikal, XC177391. Accessible at


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Barrow's Goldeneye
South Dakota Status: Rare winter visitor in the Black Hills region, accidental elsewhere in the state.

Additional Barrow's Goldeneye Photos coming soon!! Send me an airline ticket to Alaska! :-)