Bird Database

Common Goldeneye

(Bucephala clangula)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance





Conservation Actions

Manage waterfowl harvest

Common Goldeneye

(Bucephala clangula)

Although Common Goldeneyes nest in New Hampshire, they are far more common in migration and winter, when large flocks can be found in almost any body of open water, including rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Nesting in the state occurs primarily around Lake Umbagog, with smaller numbers in the Connecticut Lakes and occasional records as far south as the White Mountains. Because they are cavity nesters, they favor rivers and ponds surrounded by forests during the breeding season. The best way to find them this time of year to take a quiet boat into suitable habitat from late May to August and watch for females with ducklings in tow. Goldeneye feed mainly on invertebrates (crustaceans, insect larvae, and mollusks) obtained through diving.

Male goldeneyes have an impressive courtship display, which can be seen throughout the winter and early spring. Most components of this display involve the male throwing his head back over his body and pointing his bill straight into the air. As he brings it back forward he utters a harsh two-note squawk and kicks backward with his feet. Other versions of the display similarly involve him moving his head in unusual positions relative to the water. Females typically respond to the male with subdued head movements of their own.

The data on goldeneye population numbers shown here are from spring surveys conducted from aircraft across Maine and eastern Canada; there are no comparable data just for the small New Hampshire breeding population. Winter data from the Christmas Bird count show a similar stable trend, but these data are subject to much greater error based on variables such as observer effort or the extent of ice on New Hampshire’s rivers and lakes in late December. Note that the aerial surveys also don’t distinguish between Common Goldeneye and the rarer Barrow’s Goldeneye, which breeds in much lower numbers in parts of Quebec and Labrador. Barrow’s is annual in very small numbers in winter in southern New Hampshire. The male is most readily recognized by his crescent-shaped face marking and less white in his wings, while the females usually have an extensively yellow or orange bill. Female Common Goldeneyes may have up to a third of the bill yellow, but never the entirety.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Common Goldeneye
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count