Common Goldeneye vs Barrow's Goldeneye Identification

Updated: 5 days ago

These diving ducks can be confusing to new birders. Read below to learn the major ID points for discerning the Common Goldeneye from the Barrow's Goldeneye.

Common Goldeneye Male (left) and Barrow's Goldeneye Male (right)
Common Goldeneye Male (left) and Barrow's Goldeneye Male (right)

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This identification guide will focus on the major identification features between the male Common and Barrow's Goldeneye. At the end of the post, we will summarize the most useful identification keys for each sex. In our comparison photos, we do include both sexes of each species, so use those comparisons for female-type birds.



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Recommended Waterfowl Identification Guides


Want to get better at identifying waterfowl? Check out our favorite waterfowl guides.


  1. The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl

  2. North American Ducks, Geese and Swans: Identification Guide

  3. Waterfowl and North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide

  4. Waterfowl ID Series


Common Goldeneye Identification vs Barrow's Goldeneye


Left: Common Goldeneye (male - upper, female - lower) | Right: Barrow's Goldeneye (male - upper, female - lower)
Left: Common Goldeneye (male & female) | Right: Barrow's Goldeneye (male & female)

In the photo above, we can see the most obvious visual keys to Common Goldeneye identification. Let's break it down by male and female:


Male: The white spot on the face is round. The peak of the crown is in the center of the head. The majority of the body is white. The bill is robust with a gradual incline leading into the forehead. For identification in flight, see the open wing graphic below.


Female: The peak of the crown is more centered on its head. The forehead has a more gradual incline. The is usually completely dark, though it can have extensive yellow and orange.




Open Wing of the Common Goldeneye vs Barrow's Goldeneye

Open wing of the Common Goldeneye (top) and Barrow's Goldeneye (bottom)
Open wing of the Common Goldeneye (top) and Barrow's Goldeneye (bottom)

Common Goldeneye Range and Habitat


Common Goldeneye Can be found throughout much of the US in winter, spring, and fall. Habitat is not a great key to Common Goldeneye identification.


Common Goldeneye Range Map

Common Goldeneye Range Map
Common Goldeneye Range Map




Barrow's Goldeneye Identification vs Common Goldeneye


Left: Common Goldeneye (male & female) | Right: Barrow's Goldeneye (male & female)
Left: Common Goldeneye (male & female) | Right: Barrow's Goldeneye (male & female)

Use the photo above and focus on the individuals on the right side of the photo.


Male: The white spot on the face is crescent-shaped. The peak of the crown is towards the forehead. The majority of the body is black, and there is a black "spur" at the front of the black. The bill is more petite with a steep incline from the base of the bill to the forehead. For identification in flight, see the open wing graphic below.


Female: The peak of the crown is at the forehead, and the back of the head is has a steep decline. The bill is mostly orange, and there is a steep incline from the base of the bill to the forehead.




Open Wing of the Barrow's Goldeneye vs Common Goldeneye


Open wing of the Common Goldeneye (top) and Barrow's Goldeneye (bottom)
Open wing of the Common Goldeneye (top) and Barrow's Goldeneye (bottom)

Barrow's Goldeneye Range and Habitat


The range of the Barrow's Goldeneye is much more restricted than the Common Goldeneye. They are found in the northcentral and northeast portions of the county during winter and spring. However, most of the population is found in the west. Habitat is not a great key to Barrow's Goldeneye identification.



Barrow's Goldeneye Range Map

Barrow's Goldeneye Range Map
Barrow's Goldeneye Range Map



Final Thoughts on Goldeneye Identification


To make identification simple, consider two major keys in goldeneye identification:


Males: Shape of the face spot and major body color.

  • Barrow's Goldeneye

  • Crescent or apostrophe

  • More black than white

  • Common Goldeneye

  • Oval

  • More white than black


Females: Color of the bill and head shape.

  • Barrow's Goldeneye

  • Steep forehead

  • Orange Bill

  • Common Goldeneye

  • Gently-sloped forehead

  • Dark bill (usually)


Using these two major points for each sex will help simplify your goldeneye conundrums!

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