One thing that always amazes me is the difference in the species and numbers of birds one sees from year to year. For example, last winter there were very few swans in our area, I had to search to find them. This year there were literally thousands in the very same spots. It was impossible to find a pond without a white blanket of swans.
Last season I noted in a post on the Barrow’s goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) that I only saw a single male of that species and no females. This year, several groups of Barrow’s goldeneyes – both males and females – inhabit the ponds that supported no goldeneyes the previous winter. That is what makes wandering about so interesting. Leonard and I never know what we might find, or not find.
A female Barrow’s goldeneye, has the common name suggests, has a yellow eye. The short bill is also yellow. Whereas the male is a striking combination of white and dark plumage, the female is more subdued, but still beautiful in a subtle manner with a chocolate brown head, grey back, wings and tail and a white breast, belly and flanks. Although many female ducks are difficult to identify
Female Barrow’s goldeneyes will never win any “mother of the year” awards. A female does not breed until she is three years old. Goldeneyes nest in cavities of mature trees, often in the general area where they were hatched. Five to fifteen pale olive or blue green eggs are laid in a depression formed in existing materials, such as wood chips or a deserted nest, lined with the down from the female’s chest. Goldeneyes will also utilize nest boxes. A female goldeneye is not particular about nor overly protective of her eggs. She will lay them in the nest of another goldeneye or even in the nest of another duck that nests in tree cavities.
A goldeneye chick will leave the nest after a couple days and is very independent, capable of feeding and caring for itself. Often broods from different females will come together in a creche (nursery group) that is cared for by one female. The mother leaves her young at about five to six weeks of age, before they can fly.
These female Barrow’s goldeneye ducks were photographed on a pond at Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery (Shasta County CA).