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long-tailed duck

Clangula hyemalis

What do they look like?

During the spring and summer, adult males feature black crowns, necks and throats that extend through the breast. Their backs, tails and wings remain black, but their scapulars are buff and mottled with black. Their gray eye patches remain, but are accented with white. Their bills are dark, with a blueish band. Spring females are overall brown, with brown faces and a small white patch surrounding each eye. They also often feature a white crescent across their lower necks. Their brown breast band extends further into the belly, but the undertail coverts remain white. In late summer, males begin to develop a third plumage that is an intermediate between the winter and spring plumages. Their throats and necks become white and their bills develop a pink band. Young long-tailed ducks look like miniature adult females, but young males begin to resemble adult males by late fall. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Murphy, et al., 2001)

Long-tailed ducks are medium-sized birds with long, dark tails and gray legs and feet. They are called long-tailed ducks because adult males have two long, skinny feathers sticking out from their tail. Males are larger and their feathers are more black. Males measure 48 to 58 cm long and weigh 0.91 to 1.13 kg. Females meaure 38 to 43 cm long and weigh .68 to 0.91 kg. Long-tailed ducks have different feathers in each season. Between seasons, they lose all their old feathers and grow new ones. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Murphy, et al., 2001)

In the winter, males have white feathers on the top of their head, neck, throat, and down their front. They have gray patches around their eyes and black patches coming out from their ears. Their bills are dark and have a pinkish band across the middle. They have a large black band on their breast, and black feathers on their back and tail. Their bellies and underneath their tail are white. They have black wings with a large, white patch right where they attach to the body. In the spring and summer, the feathers on the top of the heads, necks, throats, and breast turn black. The white patches on their wings turn tan and get black speckles. Their gray eye patches become partly white, and the band on their bills turns blueish. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Murphy, et al., 2001)

Females look similar in the winter, except they have brown feathers in the places where the males have black. Their bills are dark blueish gray. In the spring, they are mostly brown, and have brown faces with white around their eyes. They have a white crescent across their lower necks. Young long-tailed ducks look like small versions of adult females at first. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Murphy, et al., 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    0.68 to 1.13 kg
    1.50 to 2.49 lb
  • Range length
    38.1 to 58.4 cm
    15.00 to 22.99 in
  • Average wingspan
    70 cm
    27.56 in

Where do they live?

Long-tailed ducks live in a large area compared to many other ducks, geese, and swans. They live in the Arctic in the spring and summer while breeding, and travel south for the winter. The total area where they live is very big and measures about 10,800,000 sq km. In the spring and summer, long-tailed ducks are found on the Arctic coasts of Canada, Alaska, the United States, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Russia. In the winter, they are found in the United Kingdom, North America, Korea, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Long-tailed ducks live in different kinds of habitats. In the winter, they live in the open ocean or in large lakes. In the summer, they choose pools or lakes in places that so far north, there aren't many trees. They usually breed in spots that have both land and water. For example, they like marshy grasses, mouths of rivers, and small islands near the shore. They also like wet land areas like bogs and pools of standing water. When they are not breeding, they stay farther from shore in saltwater or places where freshwater and saltwater mix. Once in a while, they spend the winter in large, deep freshwater lakes. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Fischer and Larned, 2004; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005)

How do they reproduce?

Like many ducks, geese, and swans, long-tailed ducks form a breeding pair each year of one male and one female. This can happen as soon as they reach their breeding grounds. Sometimes they keep the same partner for more than one year in a row, and other times they switch. When choosing mates, males swim toward females with their tail up and bill stuck out over the water. Then, they bow their head while making four or five calls, then pull their head back with their beak up. Sometimes they have to fight off other males too. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Goudie and Ankney, 1986)

Breeding starts in May or later, depending on location and if there are available mates. Long-tailed ducks can begin mating when they are two years old. Females build bowl-shaped nests out of grass and soft down feathers they pluck from their own bodies. They build the nests on dry ground, hidden among rocks or under plants. Females lay 6 to 8 eggs, usually one per day. Some nests have been found with as many as 17 eggs, but this might be because one female laid eggs in a nest belonging to another. If none of the chicks hatch, they can nest again because their breeding season is long. Females keep the eggs warm for 24 to 30 days, and care for the chicks in the nest for 34 to 40 more days until they can fly. Ducklings split into 3 or 4 groups and are watched over by older females. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Braune, 2010; Fischer and Larned, 2004; Goudie and Ankney, 1986; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Long-tailed ducks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding usually occurs between May and July.
  • Range eggs per season
    5 to 11
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 30 days
  • Range fledging age
    35 to 40 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 (high) years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 (high) years

Males defend the nest in the open water while females lay eggs. After the eggs are laid, females defend them for 24 to 30 days while males go to grow a new set of feathers, which is called molting. Young ducklings can feed themselves, but mothers feed and take care of them. When they are able to walk, mothers take them to the water and teach them to dive for food. Between August and October, mothers will leave their young to grow new feathers. Female long-tailed ducks lose less stored energy when caring for young compared to other ducks. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005; Kellett, et al., 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

Long-tailed ducks live 15.3 years on average. The record for the longest life in the wild is 22 years. Their lifespan is affected by availability of food, their environment, disease, and toxins like lead and mercury. Only 10% of ducklings survive to be 30 days old or more. (Braune, 2010; Kellett, et al., 2005; Schamber, et al., 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    22.7 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    15.3 years

How do they behave?

Long-tailed ducks are active during the day, and spend a lot of time searching for food. They dive pretty far offshore for prey, and search for food longer than other diving ducks. They are social with each other but don't really interact with other species. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Kellett, et al., 2005; Lacroix, et al., 2003)

Long-tailed ducks travel between winter and summer locations. In early May, they head north to their breeding location. After breeding, they rest together in flocks while growing all new feathers. In September, they head south. They often migrate in groups, too. (Bent, 1987; "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)", 2002; Kellett, et al., 2005; Lacroix, et al., 2003)

Home Range

Home ranges of long-tailed ducks haven't really been studied yet.

How do they communicate with each other?

Long-tailed ducks use many kinds of calls to communicate with each other. They growl, cluck, squawk, and yodel. Some of them make throaty or nasal noises that can be heard from a ways away. Mothers use special calls to tell their young to dive into water. Males make four or five deep calls to show they are ready to mate. Females call or growl in response. Males also fend off competition using calls, physical contact, chases and visual cues such as spreading their wings and tilting their heads up. Females defend the young by spreading their wings and splashing, which might draw a predator's attention away from the young. Like most ducks, they rely on sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. (Bent, 1987; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005; Murphy, et al., 2001)

What do they eat?

Long-tailed ducks eat a large variety of animal and plant foods. Animals they eat are: crustaceans, mollusks, ocean invertebrates, small fish, fish eggs, freshwater insects and insect larvae. Plants they eat are: algae, grasses, seeds and fruit. They like to eat blue mussles, ocean crustaceans called Idotea baltica, northern lacuna snails, and other crustaceans. They prefer to eat foods that have high energy compared to their size. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Goudie and Ankney, 1986; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005; Kellett, et al., 2005)

Bodies of long-tailed ducks make them good hunters. Their bills are shaped like chisels and have curved tips that help them grab prey. Their small bills allow them to efficiently pick small crustaceans in motion. Their bodies are quick in the water and good for diving for prey. In the winter, adults spend about 80% of the day looking for food. They dive under the water for 25 to 60 s and pick animals from the seafloor within 100 m of shore. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Goudie and Ankney, 1986; "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)", 2005; Kellett, et al., 2005)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats other marine invertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • echinoderms
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • algae

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Long-tailed ducks are most likely to be eaten on land. Baby ducklings, eggs, and adults who in the middle of growing all new feathers are in the biggest danger. Females camouflage their nests and lay eggs close to the water so ducklings don't have far to travel to reach it. Males defend the nest from predators while females lay eggs. When waiting for their new feathers to grow, they stick together in groups for safety. (Lacroix, et al., 2003)

Long-tailed ducks are eaten by birds of prey and mammals. Birds that eat them are mew gulls, glaucous gulls, and parasitic jaegers. In the summer on the coast, Arctic foxes are common predators. Farther inland, red foxes are a bigger threat. (Lacroix, et al., 2003)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Long-tailed ducks are important predators of crustaceans, mollusks, ocean invertebrates, and small fish. They are an important food source for birds such as gulls and jaegers, and also roving dogs and foxes. They are vulnerable to diseases like avian botulism, avian influenza and avian cholera. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Lacroix, et al., 2003; North and Lair, 2006)

Do they cause problems?

Long-tailed ducks aren't known to have any negative impacts on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Long-tailed ducks keep numbers of insects, mollusks and crustaceans constant. They are hunted by sport hunters in Denmark. Both their eggs and meat are eaten in some Inuit communities of the Arctic. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Goudie and Ankney, 1986)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Long-tailed ducks live in a large area and there are quite a few of them, but their numbers have shrunk in the past 10 years or so. In North America, they have shrunk by nearly half in the last 30 years. Much of their breeding habitat has been destroyed by crude oil pollution and harvesting peat, which is decaying plants. They have also died from lead, mercury and oil pollution, from getting tangled in fishing nets, and from infection by avian cholera or avian flu. There are estimated to be 6,200,000 to 6,800,000 long-tailed ducks in the Arctic. ("Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis", 2004; Braune, 2010; "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2010; North and Lair, 2006)

Some more information...

Long-tailed ducks used to be called oldsquaws. The scientific name of the genus they belong to was also changed from Harelda to Clangula. ("American Ornithologists' Union", 2000)


Sakina Attaar (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


2000. American Ornithologists' Union. Forty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Checklist of North American Birds, 117: 847-858. Accessed April 11, 2011 at

ITIS Catalogue of Life. 2005. "Clnagula hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1758)" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed February 21, 2011 at

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2010. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed February 06, 2011 at

Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2002. "Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed August 03, 2011 at

BirdLife International. 2004. "Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis" (On-line). BirdLife Species International. Accessed February 21, 2011 at

Bent, A. 1987. Life histories of North American wild fowl, Volumes 1-2. Toronto, Ontario: General Publishing Company, Ltd..

Braune, B. 2010. Inter-and intraclutch variation in egg mercury levels in marine bird species from the Canadian Arctic. Science of The Total Environment, 408/4: 836-840. Accessed February 22, 2011 at

Fischer, J., W. Larned. 2004. Summer distribution of marine birds in the Wester Beaufort Sea. Arctic, 57/2: 143-159.

Goudie, R., C. Ankney. 1986. Body size, activity budgets, and diets of sea ducks wintering in Newfoundland. Ecology, 67/6: 1475-1482. Accessed February 22, 2011 at

Kellett, D., R. Alisauskas, K. Mehl, K. Drake, J. Traylor, S. Lawson. 2005. Body mass of Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) during incubation. American Ornithologist Union, 122/1: 313-318.

Lacroix, D., R. Lanctot, J. Reed, T. McDonald. 2003. Effect of underwater seismic surveys on molting male Long-tailed Ducks in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 81/11: 1862-1875.

Murphy, D., D. Oster, D. Maas, J. Anderson, S. Hauge. 2001. Hunting Divers and Paddle Ducks: A Comprehensive Guide to More Than 30 Species. Chanhassen, MN: Creative Publishing International, Inc.

North, N., S. Lair. 2006. Movements of Long-tailed Ducks wintering on Lake Ontario to breeding areas in Nanavut, Canada. Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 118/4: 494-501.

Schamber, J., P. Flint, J. Grand, H. Wilson, J. Morse. 2009. Population dynamics of Long-tailed Ducks breeding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Arctic, 62/2: 190-200.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Attaar, S. 2012. "Clangula hyemalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2024 at

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