Loch Leven boxes hoped to be a perfect nesting site for the rare Goldeneye ducks

Loch Leven NNR in Kinross-shire is a sure bet for seeing a range of migratory birds, but recently efforts have been made to encourage a rare duck to stay and breed.

NatureScot Nature Reserve Officer Simon Ritchie set up nesting boxes where the Goldeneye duck – famous for its crazy breeding display – could choose to raise a family.

In his regular blog, he further explained: “Winter is the best time to see one of my all-time favorite birds – the Goldeneye.

“This duck winters in large numbers at Loch Leven with an average winter with around 500-600 birds. We had nearly 900 birds at the peak.

“Goldeye are mainly winter visitors to the UK with around 30,000 birds arriving from Scandinavia in the autumn.

“Drakes (males) can be quite easily identified. They have a black head with an almost dark green sheen, a golden/yellow eye (as the name suggests), a black back, and the chest and flanks (sides) are pure white with black streaks. Females have brown heads, yellow eyes and gray bodies. They are both truly magnificent birds.

“It’s quite an experience to watch the Goldeneye display. The males court the females by making this strange courtship display.

“They extend their neck, then get straight on their back. Probably one of the most bizarre sights in the birding world.

“These birds mainly breed in northwestern Europe (Sweden, Finland, Russia) and in the Baltic countries. However, there is a small population of around 200–250 breeding birds in Scotland.

“These birds are mainly confined to Deeside and Speyside where there is suitable habitat of trees and lochs/lochans.

“Boxes have been put up in Kinross-shire in the past to encourage Goldeneye breeding, but so far we have been unlucky.

“There is no reason they shouldn’t be nesting here so I have decided to reinstate this project and thanks to our wonderful volunteers we have 11 Goldeneye nest boxes ready to go out.

NatureScot Reserve Officer Simon Ritchie sets up a nest box in a tree in Loch Leven NNR where efforts are being made to encourage the species to stay and breed

“Goldeye naturally nests in holes in trees, often these holes are made by woodpeckers. Thus, we have recreated a natural nest. The hole is 100mm in diameter and inside the box we have four inches of fresh sawdust.

Simon explained that Goldeneye is an early nester and starts nesting in March. Sawdust is needed in the box as the female will lay 8-12 eggs and while she is incubating them they can be buried in the sawdust for warmth.

Preparations have been made, Simon can only wait now: “Fingers, toes and arms crossed that we have our first breeding pair of Goldeneyes at Loch Leven this season, I am still hopeful.”

Amanda J. Marsh