The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a medium-sized sea duck native to North America. It is named after Sir John Barrow, an English statesman and naturalist. The species is known for its striking plumage, with males featuring a glossy purplish-black head, white body, and bold black back. The eyes are a vibrant yellow, giving the bird its “goldeneye” name.


Females are less colorful but still distinctive, with a brownish head and a mostly grayish body. Both sexes have a unique white oval-shaped spot on their face, just below the eye. The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a strong swimmer and diver, often seen foraging in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. They are also capable fliers, migrating seasonally between breeding and wintering grounds.


This species is generally found in lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. They prefer habitats with clear water and abundant underwater vegetation, providing food and cover. During the breeding season, Barrow’s Goldeneyes are more likely to be found in freshwater habitats, while they spend the winter months in saltwater environments, often forming large flocks.



Physical Description:

The male Barrow’s Goldeneye is easily recognizable by its iridescent purplish-black head, white body, and black back. It also has distinctive white crescent-shaped markings between its eye and bill. Females are generally brown with a darker head and lighter body, making them less conspicuous than males.

Both males and females have strong, pointed bills well-suited for their omnivorous diet. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, making them excellent swimmers but awkward on land. The bird’s wings are strong and pointed, contributing to its fast and agile flight.

Lifespan: Wild: ~18 years || Captivity: ~20 years

Weight: Male: 1.8–2.4 lbs (0.8–1.1 kg) || Female: 1.6–2.2 lbs (0.7–1 kg)

Length: Male: 17–19 inches (43–48 cm) || Female: 16–18 inches (41–46 cm)

Wingspan: Male & Female: 29–31 inches (74–79 cm)

Top Speed: 40 mph (64 km/h)

Native Habitat:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is native to North America and is predominantly found in the northern regions of the United States and Canada. They prefer freshwater habitats such as lakes and rivers, especially those with clear water and abundant underwater vegetation. These habitats offer both food and cover, making them ideal for both breeding and foraging.

During the winter months, the species is more likely to be found in saltwater habitats along the coast. These coastal areas provide abundant food resources and are often less affected by freezing temperatures, making them suitable wintering grounds. The Barrow’s Goldeneye also inhabits brackish waters, where freshwater and saltwater mix.

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WWF Biomes:
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Diet & Feeding Habits:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye primarily feeds on aquatic invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. They are excellent divers, often diving to depths of up to 20 feet to forage on the bottom of lakes, rivers, or coastal waters. The bird uses its strong bill to sift through sediment and capture prey.

During the breeding season, their diet may also include a higher proportion of plant material, such as aquatic vegetation and algae. This shift in diet is thought to provide the necessary nutrients for egg production and the growth of young birds. They generally forage in the early morning and late afternoon, alone or in small groups.

Mating Behavior:

Mating Description:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is generally monogamous, often forming long-term pair bonds. The breeding season typically begins in late spring and continues through early summer. Males perform elaborate courtship displays to attract a mate, which includes head-bobbing, vocalizations, and water splashing.

Once a pair is formed, they engage in nest-building activities. The female usually selects a nesting site close to water, often in a tree cavity or a nest box if available. She lays a clutch of 6 to 10 eggs, which she incubates for about 28 to 32 days. During this period, the male may stay close to protect the nest, although he does not participate in incubation or rearing the young.

Reproduction Season:

Birth Type:

Pregnancy Duration:

~30 days (incubation)

Female Name:


Male Name:


Baby Name:


Social Structure Description:

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a highly social species, often forming large flocks, especially outside the breeding season. Within these flocks, there is a loose hierarchy based on age and size, with older, larger individuals generally being more dominant. During the breeding season, pairs break off from the main flock to focus on raising their young.

Once the breeding season ends, families may rejoin larger flocks, where the young are integrated into the social structure. These flocks provide safety in numbers, both from predators and when foraging. The species is known for its strong social bonds, not just between mating pairs but also among individuals in a flock.


Conservation Status:
Population Trend:


Wild: ~200,000 || Captivity: Unknown


The Barrow’s Goldeneye is currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, indicating that it is not at immediate risk. The population is considered stable, with an estimated 200,000 individuals in the wild. Various conservation measures, including habitat protection and regulated hunting, have helped maintain the population.

However, the species faces threats from habitat loss due to human activities, including agriculture and development. Pollution, particularly in oil spills and chemical runoff, is also risky. Conservation efforts are focused on habitat preservation and monitoring to ensure the population remains stable.

Population Threats:

The primary threats to Barrow’s Goldeneye include habitat loss and pollution. The degradation of freshwater habitats due to agricultural runoff and development poses a significant risk. Oil spills in coastal areas are also a concern, as they can have a devastating impact on both adult birds and their eggs.

Despite these challenges, the species has shown resilience and adaptability. It has been able to survive in a variety of habitats, including those that have been significantly altered by human activity. However, continued habitat loss and pollution could pose long-term threats to the species.

Conservation Efforts:

Conservation efforts for the Barrow’s Goldeneye are primarily focused on habitat preservation. Establishing protected areas and reserves provides safe havens where the species can breed and forage without immediate threats from human activities. Legal protections also exist in some regions to regulate hunting and protect critical habitats.

Public awareness campaigns are another important aspect of conservation efforts. Educating local communities about the importance of preserving natural habitats and the role of Barrow’s Goldeneye in the ecosystem can contribute to more effective conservation strategies. Ongoing research and monitoring are essential for assessing the effectiveness of these measures and adapting strategies as needed.

Additional Resources:

Fun Facts

  • Barrow’s Goldeneye is named after Sir John Barrow, an English statesman and geographer.
  • The species is known for its strong and fast flight, often flying low over the water.
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye is an excellent diver and can stay submerged for up to a minute while foraging.
  • During the breeding season, the male engages in elaborate courtship displays to attract a mate.
  • The bird is highly adaptable and can thrive in various aquatic environments, including brackish waters.
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye has a unique whistling sound during flight, which differs from the quacking sounds made by other duck species.
  • The species is one of the few ducks that prefer to nest in tree cavities.
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye is considered a “sea duck” but prefers freshwater habitats for breeding.
  • The bird is monogamous and often forms long-term pair bonds.
  • Despite facing threats from habitat loss and pollution, the Barrow’s Goldeneye has a stable population and is not currently considered at risk.