The Barrow’s Goldeneye duck is a compact diving duck with a puffy head and short thick bill. It’s forehead is extremely steep and sometimes extends forward from the base of the bill. This is the most reliable way to tell female and young birds apart from the similar Common Goldeneye. Males have black heads that shine purple and black bills with a crescent-shaped white patch separates the bill from the yellow eye. White on the breast, sides, and belly and black on the back and tail areas, with a row of white square spots running along the folded wing. A short black bar extends from the shoulder, separating the breast from the sides. Females have dark brown heads and are mostly yellow with small areas of black. Their body is overall gray with a white belly and speculum while the neck appears white when outstretched.
The Common Goldeneye duck is a compact diving duck that produces a whistling sound when they flap their wings. Getting its name from its bright yellow eyes, they are differentiated from Barrow’s Goldeneyes in all plumages by the shape of the head. Commons have a sloping forehead leading up to a tall peaked crown while the forehead on Barrow’s rises vertically from the base of the bill, sometimes extending forward, to form a peak at the front of their flat crown. Males have a dark shiny green head with a large white oval patch near the base of the bill. Breast, sides, belly are white and black on the back, wings and tail area. Females have dull brown heads, gray breast, sides, and back with a white belly and sometimes a visible white speculum. When the female extends her neck, the pale neck and upper breast may form a broad whitish neck ring and their short bill is mostly black with a yellow tip but the amount of yellow varies with each bird.