Ducks on parade

This is the time of year that huge numbers of ducks congregate on the local lakes in long floating rafts of multiple species.

ducks in fall


Some species, like these Common Goldeneye, float around in “schools”, usually separate from other species.

The Common Goldeneyes are back in large numbers on Sucker Lake in St. Paul. Small groups of several males escorting a single female floated back and forth across the water, the males occasionally displaying their neck-wrenching head bob for the female.

common-goldeneye-males displaying

A brown-headed female Goldeneye (far right) is usually escorted on all sides by males, but in this case, a long line of bright, white-bodied males floated behind her.


Female Goldeneye ducks are gray-bodied rather than white, and their eyes are a duller color of orange than the males bright golden shade.

common-goldeneye-males displaying

Time to turn around and float the other direction now.  You can see why they are appropriately named “goldeneye” ducks, with that brilliant orange eye.

common-goldeneye-males displaying

The ducks were pretty far away but I could just barely hear a vocalization that accompanied the head bob.

common-goldeneye-males displaying

When one male displays to the female, then of course, another one has to show off too.  She looks pretty disinterested.

I’m not sure why ducks perform their breeding display in the fall, although the males do have some nice new feathers to show off.  This type of behavior occurs in several duck species in the fall, but tapers off after they migrate south to unfrozen water to resume again in the spring after they migrate north again.

common-goldeneye-first year male

A lone first-year male Goldeneye floated closer to the shore of the lake than the packs of courting males. His white cheek patches are only partially molted this fall, and he hasn’t fully molted the white chest and belly feathers. But his head feathers are distinctly black which sets off that golden eye perfectly.

common-goldeneye-first year male-

He looks like he has two cotton balls stuck to his cheeks in this frontal view.

Minnesota is a migratory stop-over for these diving ducks that breed in the swampy coniferous forests of Canada.  They will probably stay until the lakes freeze up and then migrate south to open water along coastal shores and lakes at more temperate latitudes.

7 thoughts on “Ducks on parade

  1. I’ve never seen this kind of duck before, Sue, and I enjoyed your photos of the Common Goldeneyes as well as your description of their behavior. It won’t be long before we get some ducks coming through (and hopefully some will overwinter). So far I have seen only a few Mallards and heard (but note see) some Wood Ducks.

    • I think you might have Common Goldeneye ducks along the shore where you live, and they might be on some of the largest lakes as well. They prefer to be far away from human disturbance, so I doubt you would find them at your favorite marsh.

    • Mike, just an added note on photographing shy ducks…I took these with the canon 100-400 telephoto on a tripod, which greatly improved the resolution at the great distance I was from these guys. I continue to be very impressed with what this lens can do.

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