A Common Goldeneye at Fort Lowell Park

By Dan Weisz

During the winter birds will fly south to find weather and habitat that will support them.  Tucson and Southern Arizona welcome very many new species to our area.  One of the ducks that may be seen in southern Arizona, although rarely, is the Common Goldeneye.  A female Common Goldeneye seems to have made her home in the pond at Fort Lowell Park, at least for now.

Female Goldeneyes are described as having a “chocolate” or warm brown head and a gray body.  During winter, the tips of their bills will show some yellow and if you look closely you can see a tiny bit of yellow on her bill.  Males have a more “golden” eye, but the females sport a nice yellow eye to represent their name.

Goldeneyes spend much of their time underwater diving for food.  As diving ducks, they sit low in the water while readying for their next foray to look for fish and invertebrates.

And as all birds do, even ducks preen regularly and get all of their feathers clean and in place.  The Goldeneye turns on its side in order to be able to preen the feathers on its belly.  You can get a glimpse at the black webbing between its orange toes.  Diving ducks will use their tails as rudders to help steer them underwater as they swim.

Head shot: a portrait of a female Common Goldeneye.  Note the very short bill.

Common Goldeneyes travel far for migration.  As the range map below indicates, they spend breeding season in boreal forests north of the US border.  Winters are spent throughout most of America.  You can see how “rare” they may be in southern Arizona on the map.

As this Common Goldeney stretches its wings, it reveals the white wing patch which is usually hidden when the bird is not in flight.  Goldeneyes have relatively short wings which aid them in their underwater journeys.

More preening and body care, as seen from the back.  The large feet, set near the end of their body, enables them to have more power for their underwater kicks.  Again, you can see some of the black webbing between its toes.

It was fun to welcome this winter visitor to Tucson.  She is spending her time currently in a large flock of American Wigeons, but she seems comfortable in her winter home.

  •   By the way, the movie “GoldenEye” had nothing to do with this bird.  It was a James Bond movie, featuring Pierce Bronson as the new Bond.  Operation Goldeneye was an Allied plan during the Second World War to monitor Spain and Gibraltar.  The plan was formed by Commander Ian Fleming of the UK’s Naval Intelligence Division.  Who knows how that name came about, but Ian Fleming named his estate in Jamaica Goldeneye and then used the name again years later for the book.

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