Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Barrow’s goldeneye.

This duck was originally described from a resident population in Iceland and named to honor Sir John Barrow, a British promoter of arctic voyages. Outside of small populations in Iceland and eastern Canada, it is mainly a bird of the northwestern part of North America. We are close to the southern extreme of its range and it only stays here for a few months in winter.

When lakes and ponds freeze in their summer range, most Barrow’s goldeneyes flee to sheltered coastal areas, but some winter on northern inland lakes and rivers that remain ice-free. Aerators in lakes and the infusion of geothermal water into the river provide this habitat here.

The male Barrow’s goldeneye has white undersides and a black back. White spots on his folded black wings have been described as resembling piano keys. His glossy purplish head has white crescent-shaped patches between the eyes and bill. Females are grayish ducks with chocolate brown heads and usually orangish bills with a black tip. Both sexes have a steep forehead, flat crown and short, stubby bills.

Primarily a cavity nester, this duck breeds in northwestern areas with small, forested mountain lakes. Females will reuse nest sites of previous years, often old woodpecker holes 6 to 48 feet above ground, and will also use man-made nest boxes. Within two days of hatching, ducklings jump from the nest in response to the mother’s calls and follow her to their brood territory.

On fresh water, aquatic insects provide most of the diet, while mollusks and crustaceans are consumed at sea. Plant material is added in summer and fall.

The opportunity to see these beautiful ducks, often found in the company of related common goldeneyes and buffleheads, is a good reason to take a walk along the San Juan River now.

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