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Common Goldeneye, Bob Shettler
Photo © Bob Shettler

Photo: Bob Shettler
Breeding evidence - Common Goldeneye
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Common Goldeneye
Probability of observation

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Common Goldeneye
Bucephala clangula
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Conserv. status:
SRANK: Abundant Breeder (S5B)
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
219 200 362 359
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Manitoba1970 - 2015 1.47 (-0.354 - 3.74)Low
Canada1970 - 2015 0.531 (-0.71 - 1.66)Low

Mean abundance (number of birds detected per 5 min. point count) and percentage of squares occupied by region

Bird Conservation Regions [abund. plot] [%squares plot]
Arctic Plains and MountainsBoreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Softwood Shield
0.1246% 0.131% 0.2139%
Boreal Taiga PlainsPrairie PotholesTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains
0.1433% 0.1111% 0.3811%

Characteristics and Range Known as "whistler" for the sound of its wings, the Common Goldeneye is a medium-sized diving duck with a stout bill. The black-and-white breeding male's dark, glossy head has a large, rounded white spot near the bill. Brown-headed, grey-bodied females are best identified by their proportions and wing markings in flight. Lively courting parties are a special spring sight as the ice leaves Manitoba's boreal rivers and lakes. The almost circumpolar breeding range includes most of Canada and Alaska south of Arctic regions, and extends slightly into the northernmost conterminous U.S.A. Conversely the winter range includes most of the conterminous U.S.A. and limited portions of southern Canada, but extends coastally as far north as the Aleutians and Newfoundland; southern wintering limits are in northern Mexico. Birds breeding east of Saskatchewan migrate mainly towards the Atlantic coast (Baldassarre 2014), though many winter on inland waters, a few even in southern Manitoba (mostly on the Winnipeg River).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Overall detection was most frequent in the boreal forest, varying between 33% and 45% of surveyed squares with ≥3 hours of effort in most regions, but falling to 19% in the Taiga Shield & Hudson Plains. Detection in 11% of Prairie Potholes squares was concentrated mainly near the boreal/parkland fringes, but included confirmed breeding at several locations well outside the boreal forest, sometimes involving use of Wood Duck nesting boxes. Reliable abundance estimates were not obtained for this species, because of low overall detection rates on roadside counts and the occasional inclusion of non-breeding concentrations in point-count totals. The probability of observation strongly favours the Boreal Softwood Shield and major features of the Manitoba Escarpment; however, it is difficult to infer much beyond the species' obvious affinity for the boreal forest. There it prefers to raise broods on fishless water bodies (Eadie et al. 1995), including sewage lagoons and roadside borrow pits, but also uses slow-flowing rivers and quiet bays of larger lakes (pers. obs.). Detection in the Taiga Shield & Hudson Plains was concentrated mainly within ~120 km of Churchill. The Churchill River and other northern areas are known to be important for moulting male Common Goldeneyes (Baldassarre 2014). Overlap of breeding and moulting areas makes the breeding range difficult to define by atlas survey techniques. It may be significant that breeding was not confirmed north or east of the Thompson to Lynn Lake region, even though goldeneye broods are relatively easy to detect. The core breeding range of the Common Goldeneye corresponds to that of the Pileated Woodpecker, an important nest-cavity provider. Nevertheless, there is strong circumstantial evidence of nesting near Churchill in 1993 and 1996 (Jehl 2004).

Trends, Conservation, and Recommendations Threats to the Common Goldeneye include breeding habitat alteration, especially removal of large unsound trees that provide nesting cavities, and ingestion of various pollutants in the winter range. Nevertheless, data from BBS (albeit with limited range coverage), CBC, and specialized waterfowl surveys all point to stable Common Goldeneye populations and correspondingly low conservation concern (Eadie et al. 1995, Baldassarre 2014).

Peter Taylor

Recommended citation: Taylor, P. 2018. Common Goldeneye in Artuso, C., A. R. Couturier, K. D. De Smet, R. F. Koes, D. Lepage, J. McCracken, R. D. Mooi, and P. Taylor (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014. Bird Studies Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba [15 Jul 2024]

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