BARROW’S GOLDENEYE – (Bucephala islandica)
The Barrow’s goldeneye is similar to the Common goldeneye but differs with a white crescent patch at the base of the bill instead of a white circle for the latter. This diving duck measures around 45 cm (17 in.) long. The adult male has a dark purplish head, black tops and white under parts. The bill is black and the legs and feet are orange. The female has a dark reddish-brown head and a bright orange bill. As per the English name, the eyes are yellow.
The bird is named after John Barrow, an English stateman in the 1700-1800s who travelled extensively. The Latin genus name refers to the shape of the head, a ‘bull’s head’.
The breeding habitat of this duck includes lakes that are alkaline in northwest Canada and USA. It winters along the western coasts of North America. There’s also a small population of this bird in Eastern Canada (including in PEI) and Iceland.
Conservation: Based on COSEWIC’s research, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is a species of ‘special concern’ for its eastern population, which includes PEI, even if it is fairly common in all seasons on the island except summer. Some of the reasons for the concern are deforestation and stocking lakes with fish, notably brook trout. Since the Barrow’s goldeneye nests in tree cavities, mature tree forests are vital to its survival. This duck also prefers fishless lakes for hunting its prey – molluscs, aquatic insects and crustaceans. It is protected from hunting.
The Barrow’s goldeneye population was also deeply impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska, as it contaminated its winter feeding grounds along the coast.