A mystery involving two female goldeneyes

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I would like to sound the collective wisdom of this my readers… One of these goldeneyes is easily identifiable as a female Common Goldeneye (rounded head and black bill with a yellow tip). The other, however, is a bit of a challenge. The bill is the right size to be a Common, but the colour is off (too orange) and the head is perhaps a bit more peaked than it should be. Could it be a hybrid female Common X Barrow’s?

Both birds were taken February 20, 2016, on Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon in Vancouver, BC with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, cropped. Not baited, called in or set up.

Mystery goldeneye: ISO 800 | 500mm | f/5.6 | 1/800
Common Goldeneye (female): ISO 500 | 500mm | f/5.6 | 1/1000

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4 thoughts on “A mystery involving two female goldeneyes

  1. Wow, interesting find! I wouldn’t begin to pretend to enough knowledge to say anything helpful about this, but your questions did pique my interest enough to look around online. One of the first helpful articles I found was this from Sibley:

    http://www.sibleyguides.com/2010/01/identification-of-hybrid-female-goldeneyes/

    Note his interesting remark about how hybrids appear to be less common in the west where Barrows are more common. Which would mean, if your bird is a hybrid, it would be especially notable!

    There is much interesting discussion in the comments section, too.

    Although that’s an rather old article, if comments are still open you might try posting this there (altho IME he’s often too busy to respond to comments on his blog). Or you could try sending your photo to him directly!

    1. Thank you for the comments, Diane. I had already seen this comment on Sibley’s blog. Maybe I should try to reach out to him about it, but you’re certainly right to say that he may be too busy to comment.

  2. I can’t give any kind of expertise but,….. according to my reference book,
    re Barrow’s Goldeneye
    “western females have all-yellow bill, very rarely so in Common Goldeneye”
    it seems eastern and western variants of Barrow’s are recognised but are not racially separated.
    (Wildfowl – Steve Madge and Hilary Burn, Helm, 1988)

    1. Thanks for you comments, Stephen. Indeed, this is my understanding as well. Typical BAGOs have a smaller, bright orange bill in this area and at this time of year, while COGOs have slightly larger black bills with bright yellow tips. This one does not quite fit the bill (sorry for the awful pun)! One of my previous posts a couple of weeks ago on the same two species shows what these species typically look like around here.

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