GOLDEN-EYE, a name indiscriminately given in many parts of Britain to two very distinct species of ducks, from the rich yellow colour of their irides. The commonest of them the A nas fuligula of Linnaeus and Fuligula cristata of most modern ornithologists is, however, usually called by English writers the tufted duck, while " golden-eye " is reserved in books for the A. clangula and A. glaucion of Linnaeus, who did not know that the birds he so named were but examples of the same species, differing only in age or sex; and to this day many fowlers perpetuate a like mistake, deeming the " Morillon," which is the female or young male, distinct from the " Golden-eye " or " Rattle-wings " (as from its noisy flight they oftener call it), which is the adult male. This species belongs to the group known as diving ducks, and is the type of the very well-marked genus Clangula of later systematists, which, among other differences, has the posterior end of the sternum prolonged so as to extend considerably over, and, we may not unreasonably suppose, protect the belly a character possessed in a still greater degree by the mergansers (Merginae), while the males also exhibit in the extraordinarily developed bony labyrinth of their trachea and its midway enlargement another resemblance to the members of the same subfamily. The golden-eye, C. glaucion of modern writers, has its home in the northern parts of both hemispheres, whence in winter it migrates southward; but as it is one of the ducks that constantly resorts to hollow trees for the purpose of breeding it hardly transcends the limit of the Arctic forests on either continent. So well known is this habit to the people of the northern districts of Scandinavia, that they very commonly devise artificial nest-boxes for its accommodation and their own profit. Hollow logs of wood are prepared, the top and bottom closed, and a hole cut in the side. These are affixed to the trunks of living trees in suitable places, at a convenient distance from the ground, and, being readily occupied by the birds in the breeding-season, are regularly robbed, first of the numerous eggs, and finally of the down they contain, by those who have set them up.
The adult male golden-eye is a very beautiful bird, mostly black above, but with the head, which is slightly crested, reflecting rich green lights, a large oval white patch under each eye and elongated white scapulars; the lower parts are wholly white and the feet bright orange, except the webs, which are dusky. In the female and young male, dark brown replaces the black, the cheek-spots are indistinct and the elongated white scapulars wanting. The golden-eye of North America has been by some authors deemed to differ, and has been named C. americana, but apparently on insufficient grounds. North America, however, has, in common with Iceland, a very distinct species, C. islandica, often called Barrow's duck, which is but a rare straggler to the continent of Europe, and never, so far as known, to Britain. In Iceland and Greenland it is the only habitual representative of the genus, and it occurs from thence to the Rocky Mountains. In breeding-habits it differs from the commoner species, not placing its eggs in tree-holes; but how far this difference is voluntary may be doubted, for in the countries it frequents trees are wanting. It is a larger and stouter bird, and in the male the white cheek-patches take a more crescentic form, while the head is glossed with purple rather than green, and the white scapulars are not elongated. The New World also possesses a third and still more beautiful species of the genus in C. albeola, known in books as the buff el-headed duck, and to American.fowlers as the " spirit-duck " and " butter-ball " the former name being applied from its rapidity in diving, and the latter from its exceeding fatness in autumn. This is of small size, but the lustre of the feathers in the male is most brilliant, exhibiting a deep plum-coloured gloss on the head. It breeds in trees, and is supposed to have occurred more than once in Britain. (A. N.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)