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Barrow's Goldeneye

November 15, 2023


Welcome to our in-depth exploration of the Barrow's Goldeneye, a fascinating bird species that has captivated birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. This educational blog will delve into various aspects of this remarkable bird, including its size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, and more. We'll also discuss some interesting facts and the essential role Barrow's Goldeneye plays in its ecosystem. So, let's dive into the captivating world of the Barrow's Goldeneye!


Size and Shape

The Barrow's Goldeneye is a medium-sized diving duck, with a length of approximately 17-21 inches (43-53 cm) and a wingspan of around 30-33 inches (76-84 cm). Males are generally larger and heavier than females, with an average weight of 2.1 pounds (0.95 kg) for males and 1.8 pounds (0.82 kg) for females.

These ducks have a distinctive shape, featuring a large, rounded head and a relatively short, stout neck. The bill is short and triangular, with a slight upward curve at the tip. The body is compact and sturdy, with powerful wings that allow for rapid flight. In flight, the Barrow's Goldeneye exhibits a swift, direct flight pattern, with rapid wingbeats and a characteristic whistling sound produced by the wings.


Color Pattern

The Barrow's Goldeneye exhibits striking sexual dimorphism in its color pattern, with males and females exhibiting distinct differences in their plumage. Males have a glossy, iridescent black head, with a purplish or greenish sheen, depending on the lighting conditions. A prominent white crescent is present between the eye and the bill, making the male's face pattern quite distinctive.

The male's body is primarily black, with white upper and lower flanks, creating a bold contrast. The wings are dark, with white secondaries forming a distinct white bar. Female Barrow's Goldeneyes, on the other hand, have a dark brown head and a gray body, with a white neck ring and a smaller, less conspicuous white patch at the base of the bill. The female's wings are also dark, with a less prominent white bar than the male's.



Barrow's Goldeneyes are diving ducks, which means they spend a significant amount of time underwater, searching for food. They are strong swimmers and divers, capable of staying submerged for up to a minute while foraging for aquatic invertebrates, fish, and plant material. They are also known to engage in aggressive behavior during the breeding season, with males defending their territories and engaging in displays to attract females.

These ducks are generally found in small flocks during the non-breeding season, and pairs or small family groups during the breeding season. Barrow's Goldeneyes are also known to engage in "allopreening," a behavior in which individuals preen each other's feathers, helping to maintain their plumage and reinforce social bonds.



Barrow's Goldeneyes inhabit a variety of aquatic environments, from freshwater lakes and ponds to coastal bays and estuaries. During the breeding season, they favor shallow, clear freshwater lakes and ponds with abundant vegetation and nearby tree cavities for nesting. In the winter, they can be found in larger bodies of water, including coastal bays and estuaries, where they can find shelter and food in the form of mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.

Their breeding range extends from Alaska and western Canada south through the mountainous regions of the western United States. During winter, they can be found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, and occasionally along the Atlantic coast in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

Barrow's Goldeneyes are well-adapted to their habitats, with their powerful diving abilities and strong, compact bodies allowing them to navigate the often-cold waters they inhabit. They are also skilled at flying, enabling them to traverse the large distances between their breeding and wintering grounds.



  1. Barrow's Goldeneyes are named after Sir John Barrow, a British statesman and explorer who was a promoter of Arctic exploration in the early 19th century.
  2. Although they primarily breed in tree cavities, Barrow's Goldeneyes will also readily use nest boxes if they are available, making them a species that can benefit from human-made nesting structures.
  3. Barrow's Goldeneyes are relatively long-lived birds, with some individuals known to live for more than 15 years in the wild.
  4. The Barrow's Goldeneye is closely related to the Common Goldeneye, with the two species occasionally interbreeding where their ranges overlap.
  5. During courtship, male Barrow's Goldeneyes perform a series of elaborate displays, including head throws, head pumps, and wing flaps, to attract the attention of females.


Ecosystem Services

Barrow's Goldeneyes play several essential roles in their ecosystems. As predators, they help control populations of aquatic invertebrates, fish, and other prey, maintaining a balance within their aquatic environments. They also serve as prey for larger predators, such as birds of prey and mammals like foxes and mink.

In addition to their roles as predator and prey, Barrow's Goldeneyes also contribute to nutrient cycling within their habitats. By diving and foraging for food, they help redistribute nutrients from the bottom of lakes and ponds to the surface, promoting the growth of aquatic plants and supporting overall ecosystem health.

Finally, as cavity nesters, Barrow's Goldeneyes create and maintain nesting cavities in trees, which can also be used by other bird species, such as woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting ducks, providing essential nesting resources within their habitats.



The Barrow's Goldeneye is a fascinating bird species, with its striking appearance, intriguing behavior, and important role within its ecosystems. Through this educational blog, we've explored various aspects of the Barrow's Goldeneye, from its size and shape to its habitat and contribution to the environment. As we continue to learn more about these captivating birds, it's essential to protect and conserve their habitats, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Barrow's Goldeneye.