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A winter visitor to coastal locations in Dorset

Photograph by: 
Ian Ballam

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) breed in the far north, both the far north of Europe and the far north of Britain, where they favour lakes and rivers in wooded areas for nesting. Once the breeding season is over they make for the nearest coastline where they gather in moulting flocks before then heading south when the winter weather starts to set in. Some move some distance south, others stay closer to home and a small number come to Dorset for the winter. In most winters there are goldeneye in the Dorset area but never large numbers.

Smaller than a mallard the have a distinctive domed head and the males have a white patch on their cheeks and yes, the do have a golden eye.

From the weekly reporting chart it seems clear that week 44 at the beginning of November is when they arrive and then there are reports virtually every week through until week 12 at the end of the following March. Reporting levels fluctuate but November and December certainly seem the peak months for them here with reports tending to fall off as the new year starts presumably as those birds that first arrived are driven further south as winter conditions set in here.

There are reports from seventeen sites in the Nature of Dorset database and it shows a strong preference for sites within Poole Harbour where the sheltered sea conditions obviously suit their needs. There are also a small number of sightings from the Fleet and Portland Harbour but they are certainly far less frequent further west. 

I think joining one of the bird boats, preferably one before the end of the year, run by the Birds of Poole Harbour is by far the best way to add goldeneye to your Dorset list.




Common Name Goldeneye
Scientific Name Bucephala clangula
Species Group Birds Ducks
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
Look for

The white patch on the cheeks which, from a distance, look like big eyes

Identification Notes
  • One of the less common wintering ducks on the open waters of the Dorset harbours and sometime off shore on the sea
  • From a distance the white patch on both checks between the eye and bill is clearly visible and diagnostic
  • The profile of the head which seems to have a large bump on it can also help identify them at a distance
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Ducks