Photo credit: Dan Lory

If you are a thin-skinned aficionado of the Simpsons—or of the Common Goldeneye—you might want to click the delete button and not read on, because I am about to plant a brainworm.

I don’t remember who first put the idea in my mind, but it’s in there, and now every time I see a Common Goldeneye—and that’s quite often this time of year—I can’t help but think of Homer Simpson. Especially the male, when it puts its head feathers up a certain way, and with that thick, stout bill, and the golden round eyes, it’s the spittin’ image of Homer.

And the male doubles down on his Homer-ness this time of year when he’s getting his hormones up. He’ll stick his green-black head straight up, as far as his neck will allow. Next, he’ll cock his head way back toward his tail feathers, pause for a few seconds just looking silly, then suddenly shoot his head up and forward into the water in front of him, like the sudden swoop of a catapult. All the while he makes a strange squawk--a cross between Dan Castellaneta trying to sing soprano and the squeaking hinge on our kitchen cabinet door. If Homer did a mating dance, it’s hard to imagine him coming up with something more whacky.

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OK, the brainworm has been planted. Let’s move on. While Homer Simpson is always Homer Simpson, not so for the Common Goldeneye. When out of character, the Goldeneye is a strikingly beautiful bird, a welcome splash of white and black and brown on our large lakes in the winter, as long as there is open water. And you only have to watch this small bird in action for a few minutes to realize that the true character of the Common Goldeneye is a far cry from its Homer Simpson role. It’s a powerful flier, and an intrepid diver—picture a penguin that can also take to the air. 

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I was standing along the rocky shore of Lake Michigan’s south shore the other day. A strong, cold north wind was pushing huge 10-foot swells that broke loudly against the rocks, and I was wondering why in the world I was out there. I noticed something floating. Right in the most roiled part of the lake, in that spot where the swells rose ominously before shaking their heads and crashing down, two Common Goldeneyes—a male and a female—were bobbing between the swells, perfectly calm and at ease. They would ride up the swell, and then just before it crashed, plunge headlong into the massive body of the wave, like TIE Fighters into the Death Star. They would emerge seconds later with something in their mouths, probably crustaceans stirred up by the waves. The only thing disturbing this idyllic scene, as far as the Goldeneyes were concerned, was this annoying human who had barged in on their fishing spot. 

When it finally dawned on me that they were more bothered by my presence than by the weather conditions, I slapped my forehead, muttered “Doh!” and walked away looking and feeling an awful lot more like Homer Simpson than either of those hardy Common Goldeneyes.

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Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.