When winter’s freeze forces Barrow’s goldeneye from their nesting ponds in BC’s interior, the ducks head to the coast. Starting late October, you can often find goldeneye gathered along Bowen’s shores and sometimes in Kwilákm.
Goldeneye are here for the sheltered waters and fine food. Eighty per cent of their winter diet is blue mussels and the rocky shores of Kwilákm have a good supply.
Goldeneye are strong swimmers. They can dive down to four metres with tail fully spread as a rudder, propelled by strong kicks with their webbed feet. Wings are closed and held tight to body. They can stay beneath the surface for over 30 seconds.
From the moment, the male goldeneye arrives on their wintering grounds, they begin an elaborate variety of postures and bizarre sounds as they court the females and launch disputes with perceived rivals. Threat displays (sketch above) seen from water level, consist of a male or female swimming low in the water with head stretched forward. If the intruder does not leave, the defender may dive and swim towards the intruder underwater, with neck extended, to come up head-first right at the belly of the victim.
When a number of feeding goldeneye come together you can see courtship displays, mixed with brief bursts of threat and counterthreat. As quickly as it began, this activity relapses back into feeding or preening. These complex courtship behaviors help form and strengthen pair bonds. In March, when herring spawn, Barrow’s goldeneye may depart Kwilákm to feast on eggs and fatten up for spring migration to the interior of BC and breeding.
This pair was observed mating in the Bay just offshore of Sandy Beach.
Photo sequence: Will Husby
Courtship begins on the wintering grounds. Copulation occurs once the nest has been established near the nest site. Egg laying occurs over +- 14 days, 1 egg every second day.
Migration north for most pairs is initiated by the female. She tends to head to the pond she was born. The male follows. These two birds in the photo above may have a nest nearby. Why have these birds chosen not to migrate? She must like it on Bowen.
Goldeneye are cavity nesters, using natural cavities in live or dead trees close by water. Heights to entrance of nest holes is 2 to 15 metres.