Goldeneyes: Cryptic Barrow’s & “Yellow-billed” Common

Hi there,

Today (24 December 2015) I bird-watched along the Rideau River at  Strathcona Park. I stayed on the W side of the river and birded from Strathcona S to Hurdman bridge and back. I encountered some birds of interest and wanted to share some photos. First, I observed a first-winter Barrow’s in with a raft of Common Goldeneyes of various sex/age; this is the second first-winter bird I have encountered in the Ottawa area this winter. My first observation of a first-winter bird was at Bate Island on 17 December.  Later on, I observed a “yellow-billed Common Goldeneye in with standard-issue females of varying age class.

Head & Bill GISS as an Identifier of Barrow’s Goldeneye

Important features of note are the short and stubby bill; steep forehead; flat crown and a touch of a crest at the rear. The head & bill GISS is vital in a case like this as the familiar white crescent and body spur (etc.) to a male and the deep chocolate brown “boxy” head and pumpkin orange bill to a female are not available as identification cues. With  Common, the proportionally longer bill; sloped forehead; and peak near the centre of the head show through in a variety of postures.

“Yellow-billed” Common Goldeneye (24 Dec 2015)

085 (800x424)

083 (800x310)

067 (800x340)

055 (800x330)

First winter Barrow’s Goldeneye (24 Dec 2015)

033 (800x528)

032 (800x530)

030 (800x494)

029 (800x488)

024 (800x562)

023 (800x390)

009 (800x600)


Di Labio, B., R. Pittaway, and P. Burke. 1997. Bill Colour and Identification of Female Barrow’s Goldeneye. Ontario Birds 15: 81-85.

Di Labio, B. 2009. Barrow’s Goldeneyes.

Martin, P.R. and B.M. Di Labio. 1994. Identification of Common X Barrow’s Goldeneye hybrids in the field. Birding 24: 104-105.