Plants & Animals

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From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2016

Common Goldeneye

I was in a photo blind on a blustery cold February morning when suddenly a male goldeneye landed in front of me. Thanks to the blind, he was completely unaware of my presence as he continued to dive under the frigid water in search of food.

The common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) is a medium-sized duck, which got its name from its brilliant yellow iris. It’s also known as the “whistler,” as it produces a sound similar to whistling during flight. Male common goldeneyes have blackish, iridescent green heads while females have chocolate-brown heads. They are found in lakes and rivers throughout the northern U.S. and across Canada.

Although it can dive to depths of 20 feet, it prefers the shallow water of the shoreline, where it forages for a wide variety of food, such as mollusks and fish. It can dive for about 25 seconds on average, using its feet and tail for propulsion and steering.

Common goldeneye males perform a spectacular courtship ritual to attract a mate. The display includes throwing back his head, kicking the water, and calling. Once paired, the male tends to the female, driving away other males from her nesting site. The male continues to guard his mate while she lays eggs, but abandons her soon after clutch completion.

The common goldeneye nests in tree cavities in mature forests. A female often lays eggs in the nest of another female, especially in nest boxes located near a pond, lake, or river. Sometimes she may use an abandoned woodpecker hole. She lays eight to 12 eggs, and the incubation period is about 30 days. The young jumps from the nest within two days of hatching and follows their mother to the water. Once they leave the nest, the ducklings can feed themselves but stay near an adult for protection.

As a photographer, when your subject is wildlife, anything can go wrong even with a well-thought-out plan. I often spend countless hours researching areas, waiting and anticipating, and end up with nothing to show for it. So when the goldeneye landed right in front of my blind on that bitterly cold morning, I was excited for the photo opportunity.

While it continued to feed, a small group of female goldeneye flew over as they prepared to land in a small pool of open water. The male immediately stretched his head forward and snapped it upward, pointing his bill skyward and kicking the water with his feet. I was perplexed when I saw this behavior until I realized he was putting on a show for the ladies.

Unfortunately, the females departed soon after. That didn’t dampen his spirit, as he continued to forage for food and ward off seagulls that continued to steal his meal. I guess it was a typical day for him, but for me it was a day to remember.

—Story and photograph by Noppadol Paothong

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This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler