Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
FULIGULA CLANGULA, Linn.
PLATE CCCCVI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
You have now before you another of our Ducks, which at least equals any of
the rest in the extent of its migrations. Braving the blasts of the north, it
visits the highest latitudes in spring, and returns at the approach of winter
spreading over the whole country, as if it seemed not to care in what region it
spends its time, provided it find abundance of water. Now propelling itself
gaily, it may be seen searching the pebbly or rocky bottom of the Ohio, or
diving deep in the broad bays of Massachusetts or the Chesapeake. Presently it
emerges with a crayfish or a mussel held firmly in its bill. It shakes its
head, and over its flattened back roll the large pearly drops of water, unable
to penetrate the surface of its compact and oily plumage. The food is
swallowed, and the bird, having already glanced around, suddenly plunges
headlong. Happy being! Equally fitted for travelling through the air and the
water, and not altogether denied the pleasure of walking on the shore; endowed
with a cunning, too, which preserves you from many at least of the attempts of
man to destroy you; and instinctively sagacious enough to place your eggs deep
in the hollow of a tree, where they are secure from the noctural prowler, and,
amid the down of your snowy breast, are fostered until the expected young come
forth. Then with your own bill you carry your brood to the lake, where, under
your tender care they grow apace. The winged marauders, rapid as their flight
may be, cannot injure you there; for while your young ones sink into the deep
waters, you arise on whistling wings, and, swifter than Jer Falcon, speed away.
In South Carolina the Golden-eye is abundant during winter, when it at
times frequents the reserves of the rice-planters, I have also met with it on
the water-courses of the Floridas at that season. From these countries westward
and northward, it may be found in all parts of the Union where the waters are
not frozen. It is seldom seen on small ponds entirely surrounded by trees, but
prefers open places, and on the Ohio is generally found in the more rapid parts,
on the eddies of which it dives for food.
This species exhibits a degree of cunning which surpasses that of many
other Ducks, and yet at times it appears quite careless. When I have been
walking, without any object in view, along the banks of the Ohio, between
Shippingport and Louisville, I have often seen the Golden-eyes, fishing almost
beneath me, when, although I had a gun, they would suffer me to approach within
a hundred paces. But at other times, if I crawled or hid myself in any way
while advancing towards them, with a wish to fire at them, they would, as if
perfectly aware of my intentions, keep at a distance of fully two hundred yards.
On the former occasion they would follow their avocations quite unconcernedly;
while on the latter, one of the flock would remain above as if to give
intimation of the least appearance of danger. If, in the first instance, I
fired my gun at them, they would all dive with the celerity of lightning, but on
emerging, would shake their wings as if in defiance. But if far away on the
stream, when I fired at them, instead of diving, they would all at once stretch
their necks bend their bodies over the water, and paddle off with their broad
webbed feet, until the air would resound with the smart whistling of their
wings, and away they would speed, quite out of sight, up the river. In this
part of the country, they are generally known by the name of "Whistlers."
I have observed that birds of this species rarely go to the shores to rest
until late in the evening, and even then they retire to secluded rocks, slightly
elevated above the surface, or to the margins of sand-bars, well protected by
surrounding waters. In either case, it is extremely difficult for a man to get
near them; but it is different with the sly racoon, which I have on several
occasions surprised in the dawn, feeding on one which it had caught under night.
Yet, on some of the bays of our sea-coasts, the Whistlers are easily enticed to
alight by the coarsest representations of their figures in wooden floats, and
are shot while they pass and repass over the place to assure themselves that
what they see is actually a bird of their own kind. This mode is successfully
followed in the bay and harbour of Boston in Massachusetts, as well as farther
to the eastward.
The Golden-eye is rarely if ever seen in the company of any other species
than those which are, like itself, expert divers; such, for example, as the
Mergansers, or the Buffel-headed Duck; and it is very rare to see all the
individuals of a flock immersed at once. Sometimes, when suddenly surprised,
they immediately dive, and do not rise again until quite out of gunshot. When
wounded, it is next to impossible to catch them; for their power of remaining
under water is most surprising, and the sooner one gives up the chase the
The Golden-eye Ducks manifest a propensity to adhere to a place which they
find productive, and that to a most extraordinary degree. One day, while
approaching the shallow fording-place of Canoe creek, near Henderson, in
Kentucky, I observed five Whistlers fishing and swimming about. They allowed me
to advance to within a few yards of the shore, when, swimming close together,
and shaking their necks, they emitted their rough croaking notes. Not being
desirous of shooting them, I slapped my hands smartly together, when in an
instant they all went down, but suddenly rose again, and running as it were over
the water for about ten yards, took flight, passed and repassed several times
over the ford, and alighted on the large branches of a sycamore that hung over
the creek, at no greater distance from where I stood than about twenty yards.
This was the first time in my life that I had seen Golden-eyes alight on a tree.
I waded to the opposite side, and gazed upon them with amazement for several
minutes. When on the eve of pursuing my course, one of them, gliding downwards
with nearly closed wings, launched upon the water, and at once dived. The other
four followed one after another, somewhat in the manner of Pigeons or Starlings,
as if to ascertain whether some danger might not still exist. I left them at
their avocations, and soon after met a family of country people going to
Henderson, one of whom asked me respecting the depth of the ford, to which I
replied that the water was low, and added that they should be careful lest some
Ducks that I had left there might frighten the horses on which the women were.
The good folks, with whom I was acquainted, laughed, and we parted.
About four o'clock, as I was returning, with a fine Turkey-cock slung to my
back, I met the same party, who told me that, "sure enough," the Ducks were at
the ford, and I was likely to have "a good crack at them." There they were when
I went up, and I forced them to fly off; but as I was proceeding, and not more
than fifty yards beyond the creek, I heard their splashings as they again
alighted. In the course of a fortnight I visited the place several times, but
never missed finding these five Ducks there. This led me to inquire as to the
cause, and, having undressed, I waded out barefooted, and examined the bottom,
which I found to be composed of rather hard blue clay, full of holes bored by
crayfish. But to make myself quite sure that these creatures formed the
attraction to the Ducks, I watched an opportunity, and shot two of the latter,
the examination of which satisfied me on the subject.
I had long before this been convinced, that an abundant supply of food
afforded a powerful attraction to migrating birds, and on this subject you may
remember my remarks in the articles of the Wild Turkey and Passenger Pigeon; but
I had not then, nor have I since, seen so strong an instance of pertinacity in
attachment to a particular spot.
The flight of this species is powerful, extremely rapid, and wonderfully
protracted. It passes along with a speed equal to that of any of the Duck
tribe, and I believe can easily traverse the space of ninety miles in an hour.
The whistling of its wings may be distinctly heard when it is more than half a
mile distant. This statement may be found to be in contradiction to those of
probably every previous writer, for it has been a general opinion, that the
greater the extent of wing the more rapid is the flight, which is anything but
correct. On flying from the water, they proceed for a considerable distance
very low, not rising to any height until they have advanced several hundred
The only nest of the Golden-eye which I have examined, I discovered, on the
15th of June, on the margin of a small creek about eight miles from Green Bay.
The female left it, probably to go in search of food, whilst I was sitting under
the tree in which it was, thinking more of my peculiar situation than of birds
of any kind, for I was almost destitute of ammunition, and bent on returning to
my family, then in Louisiana. How exciting are such moments to the ardent
observer of Nature! In an instant, hunger, fatigue, even the thoughts of my
beloved wife and children, vanished; and in a few minutes I was safely lodged on
the tree, and thrusting my arm into the cavity of a large broken branch. Nine
beautiful, greenish, smooth eggs, almost equally rounded at both ends, were at
my disposal. They were laid on some dry grass of the kind that grew on the
edges of the creek, and were deeply imbedded in the down of the bird. Not being
then aware of the necessity of measuring or keeping eggs, I roasted them on some
embers, and finding them truly delicious, soon satisfied my hunger. While I was
eating them, the bird returned, but no male was to be seen. Whether many of
these birds breed within the limits of the Union I cannot tell. Dr. RICHARDSON
says they are abundant in the Fur Countries, and Mr. TOWNSEND states, that they
are plentiful on the Rocky Mountains and along the north-west coast of America.
Of the changes which the young males undergo, nothing is known beyond the
fact, that the young of both sexes resemble the adult female, until the approach
of the first spring, when their general migration northward removes them from
At the approach of spring, I have observed this species swell the throat
and the feathers of the head, and emit their rough croaking notes very
frequently. The males at this period become very pugnacious, though, after-all,
they remove northward together, preceding the females for at least a fortnight.
They usually spend the autumn and the earlier parts of winter separate from the
females. These birds have, like the Goosanders, a habit of shaking their heads
violently on emerging from the water. Their flesh is fishy, and in my opinion
unfit for being eaten, unless in cases of excessive hunger. The food of this
species, while on fresh water, consists of fish of various kinds, mollusca,
young frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, and, I believe, some kinds of grass. When on
salt water, they feed principally on bivalves and fishes of different species.
GOLDEN-EYE, Anas Clangula, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 62.
FULIGULA CLANGULA, Bonap. Syn., p. 393.
CLANGULA VULGARIS, Common Golden-eye, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 456.
CLANGULA BARROVII, Rocky-mountain Garrot, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 453.
COMMON GOLDEN-EYE, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 441.
GOLDEN-EYE DUCK, Fuligula Clangula, Aud. Orn. Biog, vol. iv. p. 318; vol. v. p. 105.
Male, 20, 31 1/2. Female, 16, 28.
Abundant during winter on all the running streams of the interior, as well
as along the Atlantic coast, as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. Breeds in high
northern latitudes. Accidental in the North-eastern Districts. Rocky Mountains
and Columbia river.
Adult Male in winter.
Bill shorter than the head, deeper than broad at the base, gradually
depressed toward the end, which is rounded. Upper mandible with the dorsal line
straight and sloping to the middle, then slightly concave, and finally decurved;
the ridge broad and rather concave at the base, narrowed between the nostrils,
convex towards the end, the frontal angles long, the sides erect at the base,
sloping and convex towards the end, the edges soft, with about fifty lamellae,
the unguis oblong and decurved. Nostrils medial, linear, pervious, nearer the
ridge than the margin. Lower mandible flattened, ascending, nearly straight, a
little curved at the base, the angle long, rather narrow, the dorsal line very
slightly convex, the edges with about fifty lamellae, the unguis broadly
Head large, compressed. Eyes of moderate size. Neck short and thick.
Body compact, much depressed. Feet very short, placed far back; tarsus very
short, compressed, having anteriorly in its whole length a series of small
scutella, and above the outer toe a few broad scales, the rest covered with
reticular angular scales. Hind toe very small, with a broad free membrane
beneath; anterior toes longer than the tarsus, connected by reticulated
membranes, having a sinus on their free margins, the inner with a narrow, lobed,
marginal membrane, the outer with a thickened edge, the third and fourth about
equal and longest, all covered above with numerous narrow scutella. Claws
small, slightly arched, compressed, obtuse, that of first toe very small, of
third largest, and with an inner thin edge.
Plumage dense, soft and blended; feathers on the fore part of the head and
cheeks very small and rounded, on the upper and hind parts, linear and
elongated, as they also are on the lateral and hind parts of the upper neck, so
that when raised they give the head a very tumid appearance, which is the more
marked that the feathers of the neck beneath are short. Wings small, decurved,
pointed; the outer primaries pointed, the first generally longest, the second
slightly shorter, in some specimens a little longer, the rest rapidly graduated;
the secondaries incurved, obliquely rounded, the inner much elongated. Tail
short, graduated, of sixteen feathers.
Bill black. Iris bright yellow. Feet orange-yellow, webs dusky, claws
black. Head and upper part of neck deep green, changing to purple in certain
lights. Back, posterior scapulars, inner secondaries, edge of wing, alula,
primary coverts, primary quills, and four or five outer secondaries, black,
--the back being darker and glossy, the wing-feathers tinged with brown. An
elliptical patch between the base of the bill and the eye, lower part of neck
all round, sides of the body anteriorly, the lower parts generally, the
scapulars, excepting their margins, which are black, a large patch on the wing,
including many of the smaller coverts, some of the secondary coverts, and six or
seven of the secondary quills, pure white. The basal part of the secondary
coverts black. Axillar feathers and lower wing-coverts dusky; the elongated
feathers of the sides have the inner, some of them also their outer margins
black, that colour in those of the innermost covering the whole inner web. The
feathers on the legs, and along the sides of the rump, dusky. The tail
Length to end of tail 20 inches, to end of wings 17 1/2, to end of claws
20 1/4; extent of wings 31 1/2; bill along the ridge 1 5/8, from the angles 2,
along the edge of lower mandible 2 3/12; wing from flexure 9; tail 4 1/2; tarsus
1 5/12; hind toe (6 1/2)/12, its claw (2 1/2)/12; second toe 1 9/12, its claw
(3 1/2)/12; third toe 2 1/4, its claw (4 1/2)/12; fourth toe 2 4/12, its claw
3/12. Weight 2 lbs. 4 1/2 oz.
Of another male, length to end of tail 19 1/2, to end of claws 21 1/2, to
end of wings 17; extent of wings 31.
The female is much smaller. Bill dusky, a portion at the end, not however
including the unguis, dull yellowish-orange. Eyes and feet as in the male.
Head and upper part of neck dull reddish-brown. Lower part of neck and the
sides of the body brownish-grey, the feathers margined with pale grey. Upper
parts greyish-brown, much darker behind; tail brownish-grey; wings
brownish-black, seven of their coverts, excepting at the bases, white, the
smaller coverts lighter and tipped with greyish-white; the legs and sides of the
Length to end of tail 16 inches, to end of wings 15, to end of claws
17 1/4; extent of wings 28; wing from flexure 8 1/2; tail 3 1/4; bill along the
ridge 1 3/8, from the angles 1 3/4, along the lower mandible 1 (5 1/2)/8; tarsus
1 (3 1/2)/8 hind toe 5/8, its claw (1 1/2)/8; middle toe 2 (2 1/2)/8, its claw
3/8; outer toe 1/8 longer; inner toe and claw 2. Weight 1 3/4 lbs.