Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula
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General Comments Unlike the closely related Bufflehead, this winter resident can be difficult to find in the state, with few regular sites. Numbers of this duck have always been small in the state, though a handful can at times be seen at a favored locale -- the lower Cape Fear River (at least until the mid-2000's). Goldeneyes mostly inhabit bays, sounds, and embayed portions of rivers, but they are oddly local within this habitat type. They also occur in very small numbers, almost always for brief periods of time, on lakes, larger ponds, and impoundments. This species shows movements related to winter severity; when conditions are brutally cold, Goldeneyes filter into the state, both coastally and inland. A diligent observer might also see a few flying low over the inshore ocean, though birds seldom feed there. Most of the birds seen in the state are females; adults males are certainly in the minority here.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor/resident; decreasing in recent years. Along the coast and in Tidewater, generally uncommon and local, mainly on certain sounds, bays, and embayed rivers; main locales are the lower Cape Fear River and Roanoke Sound along the east side of Roanoke Island. Occurs in small numbers in fresh water such as Lake Mattamuskeet and Pea Island, but they are sporadic and not consistent winter residents there. A rare winter visitor to inland sites in the province. Generally early Nov to late Mar. Peak counts: ?
Piedmont Winter visitor. Rare in most areas, though at times it increases to uncommon during severe weather (such as freeze-up of lakes and ponds farther to the north). Favors larger reservoirs, but does occur on smaller lakes and ponds, though usually only females are present on the smaller bodies of water. Mainly late Nov to late Mar. Peak counts: 35, Lake James, 17 Feb 1979; 30, Falls Lake, 16 Dec 2002; 28, Bethania (Forsyth), 20 Nov 1966; 28, Jordan Lake, 13 Feb 1994.
Mountains Winter visitor. Very rare to rare, mainly to larger lakes in the southern mountains; early Dec to mid-Apr. Peak count: 3 (peak), Transylvania, 1 Dec 1995 - 31 Jan 1996.
Finding Tips A handful of birds winter regularly in a few places in coastal North Carolina, with your best bet being the lower portion of the Cape Fear River across from Zeke's Island and Fort Fisher. Elsewhere, you cannot expect to find it anywhere with any assurance, but it might be seen in Roanoke Sound, portions of Pamlico Sound, Bogue Sound, and the lower (embayed) portions of the Neuse and Pamlico rivers. Inland, your best bet is to look at Lake Norman, Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, and other large lakes during cold spells, such as when ice covers portions of the lakes. At times, a bird or two will remain at an inland lake for a week or more, and thus it is important to pay attention to rare bird alerts and quickly follow-up on such reports.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2014-08-12], LeGrand[2013-08-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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