Long-tailed Duck Waterfowl Wednesday

Hi friends! Sorry that I disappeared for a bit. It’s been quite a hectic few weeks to say the least. I’m hoping to get back to a more regular writing schedule again. I feel bad about missing the last two Waterfowl Wednesdays, but we still have 3 more until the spring. Once spring starts, the new weekly feature will be Warbler Sunday. You know I like to use alliteration (lol), but Wednesdays are a little rough these days because of my Calculus class, so I’m switching to Sundays for a bit. But in the meantime, we’re going to feature the distinctive Long-tailed Duck.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)


Long-tailed Ducks are small and stocky sea ducks. They have round heads/bodies and short bills. Although their plumage changes seasonally, Long-tails always have dark breasts/wings, white bellies, and some patches of white on their heads.

During the summer, males have black heads/chests/wing, a gray patch on their faces and buffy upper back feathers. The female’s summer plumage is mainly dark with a white eye patch that extends down towards the ear, and brown eyes.

Male Long-tailed Duck in winter breeding plumage (Image by Eric Reuter via ducks.org)

In the winter males have white heads/necks, black cheeks/lower back/chest, and gray upper back feathers. They also have a gray face and yellow-brown eyes. As their name suggests, in both seasons males have a long, black, central tail feather that noticeably sticks out. Winter females have grayish-brown breasts/back/crowns, white heads/necks/bellies, and dark brown cheek patches. Juveniles are mainly brownish gray with white bellies.


Summer (breeding): the high Arctic: Northern Alaska and Canada. Migration: Canada and the Northeastern United States. Winter: off the coast of Alaska and south down the Pacific Coast, Atlantic Coast. Rarely found in the mainland USA.


Summer breeding grounds are open tundra, lakes, and edges of northern forests near water. In winter, they are found at large lakes,the ocean, and sometimes freshwater areas.

Female Long-tailed Duck in winter plumage (Image by Kevin Law via wikimedia commons)


Crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects, small fish, and some plan material. They are diving ducks who forage by swimming underwater. They mostly diving up to 30 feet from the surface, but have supposedly said to go as deep as 200 feet. They diving deeper than any other duck.


Long-tailed Ducks start breeding around the age of 2. Courtship behavior begins in the later winter/early spring and includes tail-raising and head tossing/shaking. They nest on the ground offshore, usually near rocks or hidden under low growth. The nest is a depression in the ground lines with some plant materials and down feathers.

The female will lay between 6-8 eggs that she incubates for 24-29 days. The young are precocial, so they leave the nest shortly after hatching. They are tended to by the female, but can feed themselves and dive fairly well. First flight occurs around 35-40 days.


Most vocal between February and June. Males give a clear yodeling upup OW OweLEP! Females give a quack urk urk or kak kak kak and soft grunts.

(If you want to hear the interesting sound of the male, check out this Audubon article that features a podcast by BirdNote: Listen to the Quirky Call of the Long-tailed Duck)


Not much is known about currently population trends, by the IUCN lists them as vulnerable.

Long-tailed male and female in summer plumage (Image by the USFWS via nhptv.org)

Fun Facts:

  • Long-tailed Ducks used to be known as Oldsquaws. The name was changed due to political correctness.
  • They tends to fly low to the water with quick, shallow wingbeats.
  • Long-tailed Ducks tend to wear their breeding plumage at the opposite times then other ducks. Most ducks have their “basic plumage” in the winter and “breeding plumage” for a short time in the late summer. Long-tailed Ducks wear their breeding plumage only in the winter.
  • They are usually found in small groups and don’t mix with other duck species often.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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