Adults are similar in appearance to the Common Goldeneye. Adult males have a dark head with a purplish gloss and a white crescent at the front of the face. Adult females have a yellow bill.
Their breeding habitat is wooded lakes and ponds primarily in northwestern North America but also in scattered locations in eastern Canada and Iceland. In Icelandic the bird is known as húsönd; it is a common species of the Lake Mývatn in the north of the country.
They are migratory and most winter in protected coastal waters or open inland waters. For winter, it migrates to the coast. It is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe and to southern North America.
These diving birds forage underwater. They eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and pond vegetation. They nest in cavities in trees, also in burrows or protected sites on the ground. This goldeneye tends not to share habitat with the much more numerous Common Goldeneye.