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Long-Tailed Duck

Clangula hyemalis

The long-tailed duck favors open water and can be found in winter throughout the Chesapeake Bay. (Gary Yankech/Flickr)
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The long-tailed duck favors open water and can be found in winter throughout the Chesapeake Bay. (Gary Yankech/Flickr)

Once known as the oldsquaw, the long-tailed duck is a medium-sized diving duck with a short bill and heavy body, whose shape and structure are well-suited to diving deep into the water for food. Males possess two long and slender tail feathers, which give the species its common name.

Appearance:

  • Short chisel-shaped bill curves at tip and is used to snatch up prey from the seafloor
  • Males and females have different patterns and coloring, and shift between three different plumages as the seasons change. Unlike most ducks, long-tailed ducks do not always have a distinct pattern--both sexes' coloration is a mixture of white, black, brown and gray (although black wings are present in both sexes throughout all plumages)
  • Drake (male): possesses two long and slender tail feathers. Often has pink band near tip of black bill 
  • Female: dark wings, white sides and white neck. Lacks long central tail feathers 

Habitat:

  • Reside in a range of habitats, often spending their winters in the ocean or on large freshwater lakes and their summers in ponds, streams and other arctic wetlands 

Range:

  • Found in winter throughout the Chesapeake Bay
  • Broad geographical range is estimated to span more than 4 million square miles
  • Breeds in the Arctic and winters along both coasts of North America. Can also be found during the winter in the United Kingdom and Korea and on the Black and Caspian seas 

Feeding:

  • Deep divers, long-tailed ducks have been reported to forage for food at depths of up to 200 feet, using their wings (more so than their feet) to swim underwater. In the Chesapeake Bay, birds normally dive to about 25 feet in order to reach food 
  • Feed on aquatic invertebrates, including insects and crustaceans. Also consume small fish, fish eggs and plant matter, including algae, grasses, seeds and fruits 

Predators:

  • Most vulnerable to predation on land. Avian predators include mew gulls, glaucous gulls and jaegers. Near breeding grounds, arctic and red foxes can also pose threat 

Flight:

  • Low with stiff, shallow wing-beats, often tilting from side to side 

Voice:

  • A vocal species with an extensive variation of calls and sounds integral in interspecies interactions like mating or raising young  
  • Individual calls have been described as nasal growling, clucking, squawking and yodeling and can be heard across long distances 
  • Male call a loud "ow-owoooleee." Call a soft "gut-gut" when feeding, a bark when alarmed

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeding takes place in spring
  • Males exhibit elaborate courtship behavior, including dips, turns and a series of four or five deep-noted calls 
  • May breed in single pairs or in loose groups. Pairs can re-form for several years or individuals may select new mates each mating season 
  • Nests constructed on dry land and hidden among rocks or other plant growth, often near the water's edge and close to the nests of other long-tailed ducks. Nests are bowl-shaped and built of willow or birch leaves or grasses and lined with female's down feathers
  • Female lays between 6 and 8 pale gray to olive eggs
  • Incubation begins once all eggs are laid and lasts 24 to 30 days
  • Females raise one brood per season, but can lay eggs several times in a season if previous clutches fail 
  • When young begin to walk, mother leads brood to water and teaches them to dive for food. First flight occurs after 35 to 40 days, at which point fledglings form groups of three to four broods that are tended by older females
  • Average lifespan is 15.3 years 

Other Facts:

  • Latin name means "noisy" and "wintery"
  • Gregarious within their own species, long-tailed ducks often swim in small aggregations within a large, loose, undefined gathering of several hundred individuals. However, they generally do not associate with other bird-species
  • Long-tailed ducks are hunted for sport in Denmark, and adults and eggs are part of the traditional diets of some Inuit communities 

Sources and Additional Information:


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