Common Goldeneye vs Barrow's Goldeneye Identification

Updated: Jun 12

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)

This guide will focus on the major identification features between the Common and Barrow's Goldeneye. At the end of the post, we will summarize the most useful identification keys for each sex.


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Common Goldeneye Identification


Visual Keys

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

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

Contextual Keys


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

Common Goldeneye Range Map




Barrow's Goldeneye Identification


Visual Keys

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

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

Contextual Keys


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

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


Females: Color of the bill and head shape



Want to get better at identifying waterfowl? Check out our recommended waterfowl guides from Amazon. As a reminder, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.


  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



Credits/References

Photo 1, 2, 3: Common Goldeneye (male) by Stephen Lester under the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication. Modified from original for use.
Photo 2, 3: Common Goldeneye (fem) by Alan Schmierer under the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication. Modified from original for use.
Photo 2, 3: Female Barrow's Goldeneye by Yellowstone National Park under the Public Domain Mark 1.0. Modified from original for use.
Common Goldeneye Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
Barrow's Goldeneye Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018

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