Commonly seen in the shallow bays and inlets of Puget Sound during the winter is the diving duck called a Common Goldeneye. It is a medium-sized bird; males have prominent white sides and a round white mark on the cheek.
Its close cousin, the Barrows Goldeneye, is similar except that its white cheek mark is comma-shaped, and the white on its flank is broken up. They often are seen together during the winter season. They hybridize regularly. The females are more darkly colored, with reddish-brown heads lacking white cheek markings.
The Common Goldeneye is found throughout North America but mainly breeds in the northern states and Canada. It seeks freshwater lakes and small ponds in which to spend the summer. Nests are placed in tree cavities near water. When good nesting sites are few, females without a nest may lay their eggs in with those of a nest owner. This can result in more than 30 eggs in a nest. Young leave the nest after 24 to 42 hours and head for the closest water.
In saltwater, the birds feed on crustaceans and mollusks they grab while diving to the bottom. During the summer, they feed on aquatic insects, crayfish, small fish and some aquatic vegetation.
Like other marine birds, these species are vulnerable to oil spills from marine accidents or stormwater discharges, which can coat their feathers and result in a loss of insulation and waterproofing, killing the birds. For more information about oil spills, go to the Washington Department of Ecology at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/spills.html.