Here just days ago I reported a female Goldeneye and predicted, “Where there’s a female Goldeneye, chances are a male or two or three may also be present, or will soon be present.” (“Ms. Goldeneye,” Dec. 8 2021) Not a week passed before I saw this pair of male Goldeneye paddling vigorously on the bouncy surface of the North Basin, against a brisk northerly breeze.
The males have a telltale white spot on their cheeks and flashy white breast and flanks, in clear contrast to the females. Males are a fraction bigger and heavier than females on the average, but there are overlaps. Both genders tend to put on weight in the winter (as do many humans, but for different reasons).
Females typically return to the same nesting site each year; males don’t. Once paired up and with a nest — which the males play no part in choosing or outfitting — males tend to defend the territory around the female until she begins to incubate the eggs; in other words, the males fight to keep other males from this female while she may still be receptive. Males play no part in incubating the eggs and don’t feed the female while she sits. Once eggs are laid, the hen also becomes aggressive, attacking other Goldeneyes and sometimes their ducklings who come near. Males play no part in parenting the ducklings once hatched. Males are most active and spectacular during courtship, which may begin as early as December. Pairs are generally monogamous, and copulation outside the pair doesn’t generally happen, but it’s not a long-term relationship; the male wanders off and abandons the female not long after she begins to incubate the eggs. The female also typically abandons the ducklings before they’re ready to fly. Whether the same pairs resume next year is unknown, but not considered very likely.
Let’s face it, Goldeneye aren’t a model of the loving parental relationships that Hallmark cards celebrate. Nevertheless, the population is believed to be stable.