The common goldeneye is a medium-sized diving duck that has nested in the UK since the 1970s. It gets its name from the drake’s golden-yellow eye. Birds from Northern Europe winter in the UK. 

Key facts

Scientific name: Bucephala clangula

Status: Resident breeding species and winter visitor

Breeding birds: 200 pairs

Wintering birds: 27,000 birds

Conservation status: Amber

Length: 42 – 50 cm

Wingspan: 65 – 80 cm

Weight: 650 – 1200 g


Adult male goldeneyes in breeding plumage have a black back, rump, and uppertail coverts with dull brown tails. Their upper mantle, lower neck, breast sides, and underparts are white. They have black inner scapulars and white outer scapulars with black fringes. Their wing covers, primaries, and tertials are black.

Goldeneyes have glossy green heads and upper neck, and a white circular patch between the eye and the base of the bill. They have black bills, bright yellow eyes, and orange legs and feet with black webbing.

Female goldeneyes in breeding plumage a slate-grey back, wings and tail with white edges to their feathers. The sides of their body and breast are grey-brown with white-tipped feathers. They have a chocolate-brown head with a white neck band. Their bills are black with an orange tip, eyes are pale yellow, and legs and feet are orange with black webs.

Out of breeding plumage male golden eyes are similar to females but they have a darker head and upper neck. Females in eclipse have a duller head and neck.

Juveniles resemble females but they have darker upperwing coverts, brown eyes, and a dark grey bill.


Goldeneyes begin to breed in April or May. They nest in the hollows of trees and other cavities, sometimes abandoned by woodpeckers, as well as nest boxes and chimneys. The nest is made from wood chips lined with down.

Goldeneyes lay 8-11 greenish eggs which are incubated by the female alone for about a month. The male leaves her after about 2 weeks for moulting. The chicks are precocial and can feed themselves when they leave the nest, and are abandoned soon after hatching to join creches. They fledge at 55-65 days and reach sexual maturity at 2 years old.


Goldeneyes eat a variety of aquatic food including crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs, molluscs, small fish, insect larvae, worms, frogs, and leeches. During the summer they will also eat plants matter.


Where to see them

In the summer goldeneyes are found in the Highlands of Scotland. During winter they can be seen across the UK on lakes, rivers, and coasts, particular in the west and north west.


Terje Kolaas/xeno-canto

Did you know?

The scientific name for the goldeneye ‘bucephala’ is derived from the Ancient Greek for “bullheaded” (bous “bull” and kephale “head”) due to its bulbous-shaped head. 

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