Photo: Jane & Adrian Binns/Vireo

Long-tailed Duck

Clangula hyemalis

A duck of cold northern waters. Often the most abundant bird in the high Arctic. Large flocks are often far out at sea; many spend the winter on such northern waters as Bering Sea, Hudson Bay, and Great Lakes. Flocks fly low over sea, with stiff shallow wingbeats, often tilting from side to side. Far more vocal than most ducks, and loud melodious calls of flocks can be heard from some distance. It was formerly called "Oldsquaw," not politically correct by any measure, a reference to this "talkative" behavior -- although it is the male of this species that makes most of the noise.
Conservation status Still an abundant species, with population in the millions, but has declined seriously in some areas. Dense concentrations are vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution in northern seas. Large numbers are sometimes caught and killed in fishing nets.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Ocean, large lakes; in summer, tundra pools and lakes. For breeding season favors both low-lying tundra and hilly areas, barren ground and edges of northern forest, as long as open water is nearby. At other seasons mostly on ocean, including far from shore among pack ice; also on Great Lakes and sometimes elsewhere on fresh water.
A duck of cold northern waters. Often the most abundant bird in the high Arctic. Large flocks are often far out at sea; many spend the winter on such northern waters as Bering Sea, Hudson Bay, and Great Lakes. Flocks fly low over sea, with stiff shallow wingbeats, often tilting from side to side. Far more vocal than most ducks, and loud melodious calls of flocks can be heard from some distance. It was formerly called "Oldsquaw," not politically correct by any measure, a reference to this "talkative" behavior -- although it is the male of this species that makes most of the noise.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, March
  • adult male, April
  • immature male, first February
  • adult male, February
  • adult female, March
  • immature, January
  • adult male and female, breeding,
Feeding Behavior

forages by diving and swimming underwater, with wings partly opened but propelled mainly by feet. Most feeding is within 30' of surface; supposedly able to dive more than 200', deeper than any other duck.


Eggs

6-8, sometimes 5-11. Olive-buff to olive-gray. Incubation is by female, 24-29 days. Female covers eggs with down when leaving nest. Young: leave nest shortly after hatching, can swim and dive well when quite small. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves; may feed on items dislodged to surface by diving of female. Age at first flight about 35-40 days.


Young

leave nest shortly after hatching, can swim and dive well when quite small. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves; may feed on items dislodged to surface by diving of female. Age at first flight about 35-40 days.

Diet

mollusks, crustaceans, insects. Diet at sea mainly mollusks (including mussels, clams, periwinkles) and crustaceans (including amphipods and isopods); also a few small fish. In summer on breeding territory eats mostly aquatic insects, also crustaceans, mollusks, fish eggs, and some plant material including grasses and pondweeds.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 2 years. Courtship display begins by early winter, but most pair formation occurs in early spring. Displays of male include shaking head back and forth, raising long tail high in air, tossing head back with bill pointed up while calling. Nest site is on dry ground close to water, often partly hidden under low growth or among rocks. Nest is a depression lined with available plant material and with large amount of down, the down being added after some eggs are laid.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. May travel in flocks of hundreds. In travel over land, fly very high. Many migrate around coastlines rather than going overland; for example, huge numbers move north through the Bering Straits in spring.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. May travel in flocks of hundreds. In travel over land, fly very high. Many migrate around coastlines rather than going overland; for example, huge numbers move north through the Bering Straits in spring.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Various clucking and growling notes; male's courtship call a musical ow-owdle-ow, ow-owdle-ow, frequently repeated.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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