In Scotland we are lucky enough to have some resident goldeneye ducks, who are otherwise mostly just winter visitors to the UK. In this blog RSPB Scotland’s McGregor, Allie McGregor, shares five facts about these diving ducks

5 facts about goldeneye

Goldeneye ducks have very distinctive heads

Both the male and female is their large rounded head. The scientific name of the Goldeneye, Bucephala, means 'bull-headed' and refers to its strange head shape.  The males head is a stunning emerald green, while the females is brown.

The unique yellow eyes they are named for are another distinctive feature. While young have mostly brown eyes, they will go through several colours before eventually becoming the recognisable bright yellow. They do have a tendency to look quite surprised all the time!

They put on a fantastic display

In February and March, you might see goldeneye displaying on lochs and rivers. They have quite the series of moves!

The courtship display of the goldeneye includes tossing its head back and stretching its neck, bill pointed upwards. At times it will splash water with its feet. It’s quite a funny and brilliant thing to watch.


Male courting display

Its most characteristic sound might not be its call

Male goldeneye ducks have a display call accompanied by rattling noises, and females often call in flight with a grating or purring kind of noise.

However, one of the more distinctive noises a goldeneye creates is actually that of its wingbeats. As they fly you may hear a loud whistling, particularly from males in winter and spring. This sound can easily be identified even when you can’t see the duck itself.

Resident Scottish goldeneye have slightly different nesting preferences

Most populations of goldeneye across Europe, Asia, and America nest in holes in trees near lakes, rivers, or wetlands. These might be holes formed naturally, or abandoned nests of woodpeckers. However, amongst the Scotland population the preference is for nestboxes. The first successful breeding of goldeneye recorded in Scotland was in a nestbox at Loch an Eilein.

Despite boxes being available throughout much of Northern Scotland goldeneye breeding is still not very widespread here.

Goldeneye chicks have a frightening first few days

Just one day after they hatch goldeneye chicks will leave the nest, as they are known to nest in trees this can be quite a risky manoeuvre. The nests might be up several feet, sometimes as high as 40. The female will stand at the base of the tree and call for her young who will bravely tumble toward her.

Once they have left the nest they can feed themselves but will still require some protection from dear old mum. Sadly, some broods will be abandoned. Others will actually join another female’s brood, becoming mixed up during a territorial spat and leaving with the wrong mum.

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