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Common Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula

Length: 18 inches Wingspan: 30 inches Seasonality: Winter / Migrant
ID Keys: White oval spot on face, yellow eye, black back and head with white body

Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneyes are by far the more common and numerous goldeneye found in the state, with the Barrow's Goldeneye being only a rare visitor.  Hunters often refer to them as "whistlers" due to the tendency of their wings to make a whistling sound in flight.  Historical records indicate the species may have once nested in the state, but no confirmed nesting has occurred in decades.  With a warming climate, it's likely normal breeding range will continue to move further away from South Dakota in the future.


Nests in tree cavities, so requires trees near water bodies during the summer breeding season.  During migration and in winter, can be found in a wide variety of aquatic habitats, from coastal areas to inland lakes and rivers.


Insects, crustaceans, small fish, and some vegetation.


Common Goldeneyes are diving ducks, with the vast majority of food obtained from underwater.  They will also occasionally feed like a dabbling duck at the water's surface.


Currently a non-breeder in South Dakota.  In their normal breeding range, they typically use a tree cavity for nesting, such as an old woodpecker hole.  In recent decades they have also started using nest boxes.  The nest cavity itself is lined with down, and the between 6 and 16 eggs are laid. The female alone incubates the eggs, which hatch after about 4 weeks.  Females remember their own hatching location, and often return to the same location to breed themselves.  The same nesting cavity is often used for multiple years by the same female.


Grating cry from the male during courtship, and various short vocalizations from females (primarily when disturbed), but they are generally silent outside of courtship.


Winters throughout most of the United States, summers in Canada and Alaska.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here for an interactive eBird map of Common Goldeneye sightings

Similar Species:

Very similar in appearance to Barrow's Goldeneye. Perhaps superficially similar to the Bufflehead if seen from a distance.

Conservation Status:

Populations appear to be stable, and they are quite common in many parts of their range.  The species will use nest boxes, and populations increases may have occurred in some locations.  The IUCN considers the Common Goldeneye to be a species of "Least Concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot":

The species can be found in open water all over the state during migration.  In wintertime, concentrations often are found in the open water below the Missouri River dams.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

March 26th, 2017 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Common Goldeneye photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Common Goldeneye - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Common in winter where open water is available, such as below the Missouri River dams.

Additional Common Goldeneye Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
  Common Goldeneye 1 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 2 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 3 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 4 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 5 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 6 - Bucephala clangulaCommon Goldeneye 7 - Bucephala clangula