2014-01-31 / Nature

Barrow’s Goldeneyes Make Limited Appearance

By Jack Kelly


Barrow's Goldeneye. (Photo by Bob Weaver) Barrow's Goldeneye. (Photo by Bob Weaver) This winter has brought a number of rare avian visitors to Newport County. In recent weeks, two male Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks have been sighted in the waters of Brenton Cove in Newport and Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, mixed in with groups of its Common Goldeneye cousins. The Barrow’s Goldeneye is fairly uncommon in Rhode Island, usually limited to a few sightings each year.

While present in much of North America, this species is most numerous in the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, and Alaska. It is occasionally found at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains. This species nests in tree cavities near rivers, lakes and wetlands. However, a small population nests and breeds in Quebec and winters along the coasts of the Canadian Maritimes, Maine, and points further south into Rhode Island.

The average Barrow’s Goldeneye is 18 inches long and has a wingspan of 28 inches. The adult male is quite colorful with a purple head, a white crescent-shaped spot at the base of its black bill, dark plumage extending down the side of its white breast, and a subtle white spotting on its back. The shape of its head is unique, featuring a flat crown, steep forehead, and bulging nape. The adult female has a dark, somewhat speckled plumage above, a rich brown dome-shaped head (similar to the male), and a deep yellow bill. Both sexes have brilliant golden-yellow eyes.


Male Common Goldeneye.(Online photo) Male Common Goldeneye.(Online photo) By comparison, the Common Goldeneye, like most North American diving ducks, nests and breeds in the boreal forest belt across Canada and Alaska. It, too, nests in tree cavities near freshwater lakes and streams. The species winters in saltwater and freshwater habitats on both North American coasts and interior regions of the United States and is a common winter guest in Newport County.

The Common Goldeneye averages 19 inches in length with a wingspan of 26 inches. The adult male has a deep green head, a circular white spot at the base of its black bill, and a more sloping head than the Barrow’s. It has dark plumage above, but displays a more noticeable white breast and sports white striping. The female has a grayish-brown color above, a light brown sloping forehead, and a larger bill with less yellow than the Barrow’s female.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. The recent spate of freezing temperatures has given us a chance to view these ducks and other waterfowl in closer proximity, as they have been forced out of ice-covered freshwater habitats into the sheltered bays and coves of Aquidneck Island. Recent sightings at Fort Adams’ Brenton Cove and other locations have revealed a number of species sharing the same habitats for fresh drinking water and foraging possibilities. Bird watchers and casual observers alike should take advantage of this opportunity made possible by the cold weather.

While on the subject of avian visitors, I reported in the Jan. 16 issue of Newport This Week that Jan St. Jean originally sighted and identified a rare Barnacle Goose on Brown’s Lane. Paul Champlin, noted area birder, actually observed it first, while St. Jean reported the news on social media.

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