Common Goldeneye Pair – A Vicious Lover’s Quarrel?

  • Like many (though not all) of my readers this is a day of extreme sadness and mourning for me and I briefly considered breaking tradition and making this post a political one – partly because I desperately need the catharsis that doing so might provide. But in the end I decided that such a discussion is inappropriate for Feathered Photography and instead chose to use this post as a brief escape from my misery and despair. I hope my readers who feel as I do can do the same.


Three days ago there was a brief break in the clouds and gunky air of our inversion so on impulse I walked a section of the Jordan River with my gear on my tripod and looked for birds. I ended up watching and photographing one of the longest and most intense bird fights I’ve ever witnessed.

There are 18 images in this post (all presented in the order they were taken) and I didn’t have time to include image techs for each one individually but here’s a summary:

  • 1/1600-1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in 


This male and female Common Goldeneye were swimming together and diving for food in very close proximity to each other so I assumed they were a mated pair. This species is monogamous and their pair bonds begin to form in December so because of their behavior that seemed to be a reasonable assumption.

But if they were a bonded pair they sure had some strange ways of showing it.



It all started when this Mallard landed on the water just out of frame to the right. His momentum and inertia carried him directly in front of the lovebirds and created a wake that…



quickly engulfed the female…



and then washed over the male. That was apparently the stimulus that caused all hell to break loose.



Instantly (when the wake of the mallard was still only inches behind them) the female turned on the unsuspecting male…



and attacked.



The male seemed nonplussed about what set her off and moved slightly to our right with a confused look on his face.



As she continued to jabber-jaw at him in an extremely aggressive manner the entire scene reminded me of situations many humans get into with their spouses or partners where one of them wonders “Wow, what did I do to deserve that?”. I well remember being in that same situation myself many times in my younger years…



Finally the male had enough and went on the offensive. When he rushed her she seemed just a little surprised.



This part of the encounter was vicious and incredibly fast. In many of my shots of the action all the viewer can see is flying water.



The male pinned her down underwater but she briefly escaped his wrath…



and disappeared beneath the water for a moment before beginning to surface again. Here we see the top of her head and her eye just under water to the left. But the male knew exactly where she was and moved in to…



ambush her as she emerged.



He bit her head before she had even completely resurfaced.



She escaped him again but wasn’t yet ready to concede defeat – far from it. She circled around (we can see her track in the water just above and slightly behind the two ducks) and then turned to face him aggressively (or defensively?) again.



Once again they rushed each other and as they met…



their clash reminded me of two bighorn rams colliding during a fight. Once again their skirmish was so intense that in most of my images all I could see was flying water.



But eventually the female turned tail and escaped in defeat.

I wish I knew the back-story here. Were the birds a mated pair? I sure thought they were until the fight broke out and even now I’m not convinced otherwise. And if they were bonded is this typical behavior for the situation? And what set them off in the first place? It seems like the timing of the Mallard’s landing had to be more than just coincidence but why that would cause them to fight I can only speculate about.

Whatever the cause I sure enjoyed watching and photographing the behavior. With birds you just never know what’s about to transpire…





Male Rough-legged Hawk At Takeoff

I’ve taken the low-road with this beautiful hawk and done some significant image manipulation in one version of the photo.


1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

This bird, photographed five days ago in Box Elder County, is making his second appearance on Feathered Photography. A few days ago I posted another image of him in flight but this photo was taken immediately after liftoff from a power pole. I like the splayed feet, flared tail, excellent eye contact and the good look at almost his entire ventral surface.

But there were two things I didn’t like about the original image so I held my nose and made some alterations to this version of the photo that I don’t normally do.

  • The hawk was too close to the right side of the frame for pleasing composition so I added canvas there.
  • The insulator on the power pole that the bird took off from was still visible at lower left so I removed it.



This is the image before I removed the insulator and wire (it includes the added canvas).

To be honest I don’t know which version I prefer. In the first version his takeoff posture suggests the presence of a perch that isn’t there but on the other hand I sure don’t like insulators and wires in my images. Since I don’t like to do this kind of image manipulation and I can’t decide which version I prefer anyway I probably should have just left the insulator in the photo and let it go at that. But I’m curious about what others might think so I’ve presented both versions.

When it comes to image manipulation I believe that full disclosure is always the best (and the only honest) policy.