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.
Description of the Long-tailed Duck
The Long-tailed Duck is highly variable by season and gender, but has a small bill and short, pointed wings. Dark crown, back, and breast.
– White underparts and face.
-Long tail streamer.
Length: 16-22 in. Wingspan: 28 in.
Male in breeding plumage, only a few white feathers remain on the back of the head. Note the color pattern of the bill, similar in all male plumages. Photograph © Tom Grey
Mostly brown with white areas around the eyes. White undertail area.
Seasonal change in appearance
Males are whiter in winter with dark cheek patches.
Juveniles resemble adult females.
Oceans and large lakes.
Mollusks, crustaceans, and insects.
Forages by diving.
Breeds in Alaska, arctic Canada, and Greenland and winters off the east and west coasts, on the Great Lakes, and occasionally on other inland lakes.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Long-tailed Duck.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
The Long-tailed Duck was formerly known as the Oldsquaw.
Male Long-tailed Ducks defend nesting territories, although the female’s nest is sometimes outside of the territory of her mate.
Long-tailed Ducks produce three-note, yodeling calls and are very vocal.
The nest is a depression lined with plants and down.
Incubation and fledging: Young hatch at 24-29 days. Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching but remain with the female for some time.