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Barrow's Goldeneye, Alan Burger
Photo © Alan Burger

Photo: Alan Burger
Breeding evidence - Barrow's Goldeneye
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Barrow's Goldeneye
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Barrow's Goldeneye
Elevation plot

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Barrow's Goldeneye
Bucephala islandica
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 2119 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
267 168 268 103
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -0.539 (-3.82 - 2.04)Medium
Canada1973 - 2012 -0.405 (-3.47 - 2.04)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.240.02 0.220.17 0.1
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.240.02    0.06
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.120.23 0.21  0.1

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.25 0.33 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range British Columbia supports about 60% of the world population of breeding and wintering Barrow's Goldeneye (Eadie et al. 2000). Elsewhere, breeding populations occur across the western mountain ranges of North America with small isolated populations in Atlantic coastal areas of Quebec and Labrador. In British Columbia, the majority of the population winters in nearshore coastal waters: the Salish Sea is particularly important, as is Prince William Sound in Alaska. Recent satellite tracking studies have shown that after breeding, most male Barrow's Goldeneyes move to specific lakes in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories to moult (Hogan et al. 2011).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The Barrow's Goldeneye breeds throughout British Columbia, but its core breeding range occurs in the parkland areas of the Southern and Central Interior Ecoprovinces. Few nesting records occur in coastal areas. Atlas work confirms breeding on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii that was only suspected when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990.

The Probability of Observation model and small point count data sample indicates that of the two goldeneyes, Barrow's is more abundant and is found over a wider elevation range, and confirm that the centre of the provincial population remains in aspen parkland and the interior dry belt of central British Columbia in the Central Interior and Southern Interior Ecoprovinces (Eadie et al. 2000, Campbell et al. 1990). The Pobs model also highlights an extensive area across the Northern Boreal Mountains Ecoprovince with a moderate likelihood of finding the bird. This area is more extensive than was indicated in Campbell et al. (1990).

The Barrow's Goldeneye prefers nesting in association with small alkaline and freshwater lakes and ponds in aspen parkland, open Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and agricultural areas, as well as occasionally in subalpine forests and alpine meadows (Campbell et al. 1990). Lakes with fish are generally avoided, as fish compete with the duck for food and larger fish may even prey upon ducklings. The Barrow's Goldeneye nests in both natural cavities and nest boxes. Natural cavities include Pileated Woodpecker and enlarged Northern Flicker nest holes that are typically located in large, mature trees within 200 m of the water's edge, but can be up to 2 km from water (Eadie et al. 2000).

Conservation and Recommendations British Columbia has responsibility for managing the majority of Barrow's Goldeneye breeding and wintering habitat since it has such a large portion of the species' world population, estimated to be less than 200,000 individuals (Eadie et al. 2000). Forestry activities in British Columbia typically target mature and older forest stands that contain larger trees with potential nest cavities and thus likely reduce the amount of nesting habitat. Current provincial forestry regulations only require up to a 50 m buffer of forested habitat to be retained around potential nesting lakes and ponds (Province of British Columbia 2002), potentially isolating suitable nesting habitat and perhaps increasing susceptibility to greater predation. Studies investigating the potential impacts of the current Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) infestation and the subsequent large-scale salvage of affected mature stands on Barrow's Goldeneye nesting habitat would inform management of the species.

Paul Chytyk and David F Fraser

Recommended citation: Chytyk, P. and Fraser, D.F. 2015. Barrow's Goldeneye in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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