Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) is a medium-sized diving duck that breeds primarily on boreal lakes and winters on sheltered coastal bays and inlets. It is closely related and morphologically similar to the predictably more common Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) but it is much less abundant and has a considerably smaller range. (Eadie et al, 2000)
Like most waterfowl, Barrow’s Goldeneye exhibits striking sexual dimorphism in plumage. Barrow’s Goldeneye males can be distinguished from Common Goldeneye males by: the white crescent marking on the lores, opposed to the round marking on Common Goldeneyes; more extensive black on the secondaries and secondary coverts and consequently more black on the back when wings are folded in, while Common Goldeneyes have all-white secondaries and a whiter back; and Barrow’s Goldeneye males have a forward-leaning head shape with a lower, flatter crown than Common Goldeneye males. (Sibley, 2003)
Females are more difficult to tell apart and are most reliably differentiated by head shape – Barrow’s Goldeneye females have a steeper forehead. Female Common Goldeneyes tend to have darker bills that are usually almost all black with a yellow tip, while female Barrow’s Goldeneyes tend to have mostly yellow bills, but this is not always true and not by itself diagnostic. Both sexes of Barrow’s Goldeneyes have shorter and more stubby bills than Common Goldeneyes. (Sibley, 2003)
Barrow’s Goldeneyes are common wintering waterfowl on the Eld Inlet beaches and waters of Evergreen’s Olympia campus. Goldeneyes can be seen from all Evergreen beaches, but Snyder Cove has the highest occurrence of sightings. They feed close to shore, generally in groups with numbers ranging from two or three individuals to thirty or more birds, with groups of between three and ten ducks being the most common. Sometimes they are seen grouped with Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) but mostly they gather among their own species. They dive at irregular intervals for small fish and crustaceans and occasionally dabble at aquatic vegetation growing on docks and similar structures. The Barrow’s Goldeneyes of Evergreen campus are not as quick to dive as other sea ducks such as the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) and usually spend more time on the surface than underwater.