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Species Guide
A photo of a Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), male
Barrow's Goldeneye, Male

Barrow's Goldeneye

Bucephala islandica

The Barrow's goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) is a medium-sized sea duck, a member of the goldeneye group. The males are distinguished by their dark heads with a purplish gloss and a striking white crescent at the front of the face. Females sport a mostly yellow bill. These birds exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males averaging 19.2 inches in length and weighing approximately 2.13 pounds, while females are typically 17 inches long and weigh around 1.31 pounds. The species is named after Sir John Barrow and is characterized by its bulbous head shape, reminiscent of a bull, as suggested by its genus name Bucephala.

Identification Tips

Adult males can be identified by their purplish-glossed dark heads and the white crescent marking on the face. Females have a yellow bill. Compared to the common goldeneye, the male Barrow's goldeneye has less black on the back and a smaller bill, while the female has a less rounded head and a bill with only the tip being yellow.


Barrow's goldeneyes breed in wooded lakes and ponds in northwestern North America, eastern Canada, and Iceland. They prefer nesting in cavities found in mature trees but will also use burrows or protected ground sites.


This species is native to North America and Iceland, with vagrant sightings in Scotland. They are migratory, wintering in protected coastal waters or open inland waters.


Barrow's goldeneyes are migratory and territorial, especially the males. They forage underwater, diving for aquatic insects, crustaceans, and pond vegetation. They are known to be arboreal nesters and tend to avoid sharing habitat with the common goldeneye.

Song & Calls

The Barrow's goldeneye is generally quiet, with vocalizations typically limited to low-volume squeaks, grunts, and croaks during the breeding season and courtship. Their wings produce a distinctive low whistling sound in flight.


Little is known about their breeding patterns. They form long-term pair bonds, with females returning to the same breeding sites annually. After breeding, they migrate to specific molting sites.

Similar Species

The Barrow's goldeneye can be confused with the common goldeneye. However, differences in head shape, bill size, and facial markings can help distinguish the two species.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet mainly consists of marine crustaceans such as Gammarus oceanicus and Calliopius laeviusculus, as well as mussels and gastropods.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the Barrow's goldeneye as Least Concern. However, they were significantly affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which impacted their wintering areas and reduced their numbers in those locations.

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Barrow's Goldeneye Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Barrow's Goldeneye was named after Sir John Barrow, who served as Second Secretary to the British Admiralty.

Barrow's Goldeneyes on Birda


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