What duck has the nickname of "whistler?" It’s the Common Goldeneye.
Hunters gave this duck the nickname of “whistler” as this is the sound their wings make in flight. Cold weather accentuates the whistling sound.
Common Goldeneye is a medium-sized duck that is widespread in much of North America, Europe and Asia. We see them in our region from a November through April. You will find them in wetland habitat near forested lakes, rivers, and in winter near salt bays and sea coasts.
Males have a glistening green-black head with a circular white patch at the base of the bill. The body is mostly white with a bit of black on the back. The head of females and young males is chocolate brown and they have a gray body. "Goldeneye" refers to their bright yellow eyes. But their eyes don’t start out as yellow. When hatched, the eye is gray-brown. As they age, they turn to purple-blue, blue, and then green-blue. At five months, they are now a clear pale green-yellow. When adults, the males will finally have golden eyes and eyes of adult females will be pale yellow to white.
Goldeneyes form pairs in winter. The male courts the female with a complicated list of 14 different moves. The “head throw kick” is when the male throws his head back, touches his rump, thrusts forward and kicks up water with his feet.
Goldeneyes nest in large tree cavities in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska anywhere from 5 feet to 60 feet above ground. Abandoned buildings and nest boxes may also be used. At the bottom of the cavity, a depression is made in a base of wood chips and lined with down from her breast. If nest sites are scarce, females may lay eggs in each other’s nests. She lays one egg each morning and only begins incubation when all are laid. Usually, 8-11 eggs are laid but they may lay as many as 17. The olive-green to blue-green eggs incubate for 29-30 days and all hatch within a few hours of each other. When the female leaves the nest, she covers the eggs with down.
The young leave the nest after only 1-2 days and that first step can be a big one with the nest maybe 60 feet up. The female is at the bottom of the tree calling for the chicks to jump and tumble to the ground. They will then follow the female to water. If the female abandons the chicks or the chicks are separated after a territorial fight, they will join another female’s brood. Though the young are tended by the female, they are able to feed themselves. They take their first flight when they are 56-66 days old.
Large groups of Goldeneyes may all dive for food at the same time. Their diet can vary by season and depending on the habitat. They eat crustaceans like crabs and shrimps, as well mollusks, small fishes, marine worms, frogs, and leeches. In the fall, they may eat pondweeds.
Found in Minnesota, the oldest known Common Goldeneye was a male. He was 20 years and 5 months old.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.