Formerly known as the Oldsquaw, the Long-tailed Duck is an arctic breeder, but moves some distance south in the winter, with individuals occasionally reaching southern states. When migrating, Long-tailed Ducks usually move along coastlines during the day, but fly over inland areas at night.
Long-tailed Ducks are far more adept at swimming and diving than they are at flying or walking. When underwater, they use their wings rather than their feet for propulsion. Males begin courtship as early as the fall, although females are seldom receptive until February.
The plumage of the males is variable depending on the age and time of year, but is distinctive and hard to confuse with other species. They go through a series of molts and partial molts from April to October, resulting in a wide range of plumages. Dark, pointed wings in all plumages. Swift fliers.
Male in winter plumage. Neck and back of head now mostly white, instead of black. Plumages on the back reduced. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
Male in breeding plumage. Photograph @ Glenn Bartley.
The wings are uniformily dark above and below. The feathers in the wings appear badly worn. Photograph @ Glenn Bartley.
Male in winter plumage, the long tail is still present. Photograph @ Glenn Bartley.
The long tails are not present immediately after molting. Note the variable amount of white on the two trailing birds. The lead bird appears to have an all black bill even though it is a male. Wings pointed but short. Photograph @ Glenn Bartley.
Female in spring plumage. Mostly dark head and small bill. Photograph @ Glenn Bartley.
Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.