In wintertime around the Madison you might see and hear black and white fighter jets whizzing by in formation over the river with a whistle and a whoosh…goldeneyes. But wait. We have two species of goldeneyes around these parts. Common and Barrow’s. Which is which?

The Common Goldeneye is the most prevalent. Try to catch the sun just right and you will see an iridescent green head with a round white spot on the cheek and that striking yellow eye.

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is scarcer and has a different look. The head is a metallic purple with a crescent or teardrop white spot on the cheek, and a row of white-over-black wing bars absent in the Common. ID photos from Cornell site.

The females of both species show the brownish head and drab markings. Both species have similar habits and are often found together splashing and diving like penguins amidst the ice-cold water of SW Montana in the dead of winter. We were lucky to catch a raft of around 100 birds the other day cavorting in the river…mostly Barrow’s, only two pairs of Common in the bunch! Photos by Janet Dochnahl.

Barrow’s with lone Common Goldeneye on left.