Saturday, 4 January 2014

Long tailed duck

This was a special day for me when I saw this Long tailed duck in December 2013.  Although a few come to Northern Ireland, in County Antrim but usually far out to sea, this is the first time these ducks had come to the Quoile Pondage in County Down.  I will show you the stills and video I took and sprinkle information between the photographs.

The Long-tailed Duck or Oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis) is a medium-sized sea duck. It is the only living member of its genus.


Length: 44 cm    Wingspan: 76 cm       Weight: M/F: 730 g 
 Adults have white underparts, though the rest of the plumage goes through a complex moulting process. The male has a long pointed tail (10 to 15 cm) and a dark grey bill crossed by a pink band. In winter, the male has a dark cheek patch on a mainly white head and neck, a dark breast and mostly white body.

In summer, the male is dark on the head, neck and back with a white cheek patch. The female has a brown back and a relatively short pointed tail. In winter, the female's head and neck are white with a dark crown. In summer, the head is dark. Juveniles resemble adult females in autumn plumage, though with a lighter, less distinct cheek patch.  Of course all these shots I took of the ducks are in winter plumage.
Their breeding habitat is in tundra pools and marshes, but also along sea coasts and in large mountain lakes in the North Atlantic region, Alaska, northern Canada, northern Europe and Russia. They are migratory and winter along the eastern and western coasts of North America, on the Great Lakes, coastal northern Europe and Asia, with stragglers to the Black Sea. The most important wintering area is the Baltic Sea, where a total of about 4.5 million gather.
  The Long-tailed Duck is gregarious, forming large flocks in winter and during migration. They feed by diving for mollusks, crustaceans and some small fish. Although they usually feed close to the surface, they are capable of diving to depths of 60m (200 feet).

In North American English it is sometimes called Oldsquaw, though this name has fallen out of favour under influence of negative connotations of the word squaw in English usage. Some biologists have also feared that this name would be offensive to some Native American tribes involved in the conservation effort.  The American Ornithologists' Union stated that "political correctness" was not sufficient to change the name, but "to conform with English usage in other parts of the world", it officially adopted the name Long-tailed Duck.

The males are vocal and have a musical yodelling call ow, ow, owal-ow.

Food:  Mostly aquatic invertebrates, including insects and crustaceans. Also some bivalves, fish, fish eggs, and plant matter.
Nest Description
Shallow scrape in the ground, lined with willow and birch leaves and then with down. Placed at the water's edge, often on islands or peninsulas, close to other Long-tailed Duck nests.
Nesting Fact
Clutch Size 5–10 eggs
Egg Description Pale grey to olive.
Condition at Hatching  Downy and eyes open. Leave nest soon after they dry. Feed themselves immediately.

Fledging: 35 – 40 days     1 Brood a year

Maximum Recorded Age: 20 years 0 months 4 days (set in 1987)  BTO Ringing Data
The Long-tailed Duck is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. Breeding and Survival
 Although I did not record video of them bathing, these next shots are stills of them doing just that.
The Long-tailed Duck is one of the deepest diving ducks, and can dive as deep as 60 meters (200 feet) to forage.
Ready to dive
Bottoms up and dive
The Long-tailed Duck is one of the deepest diving ducks, and can dive as deep as 60 meters (200 feet) to forage.
Of all diving ducks, the Long-tailed Duck spends the most time under water relative to time on the surface. When it is foraging it is submerged three to four times as much as it is on top of the water.
Unlike most ducks, which molt twice per year, the Long-tailed Duck has three distinct plumages each year, achieved in a complex series of overlapping partial molts.  
The Definitive Basic Plumage is never worn in its entirety, as portions of Alternate are retained through the summer and elements of the Supplemental are acquired before all of Basic Plumage is obtained. Therefore change in plumage seems continuous from April to October.
Unlike other waterfowl, the Long-tailed Duck wears its "breeding" or Alternate Plumage only in the winter. It gets its "non breeding" or Basic Plumage in the spring and wears it for the breeding season. Most other ducks wear the non breeding plumage only for a short period in the late summer.

I was so pleased to have seen this Long tailed duck at the Quoile Pondage as this was the first time they had ever visited this part of Northern Ireland. I hope you enjoyed hearing and seeing about this lovely duck.

Although I did only get a video of the ducks bathing a lot, I did manage to get them diving.  In fact they were diving more than they were on top of the water so photographing them was a great challengle needing plenty of patience.

You can access the video at

Thank you for visiting. 
Also thanks for all your comments on any of my blogs.


  1. I love these pretty ducks.. We see them along the Atlantic Coast in the winter.. Wonderful series, Margaret!

    1. HI Eileen You properly see a lot more of them than me. Thanks for comment.

  2. they're a beautiful duck too Margaret; quaint. Fancy being able to dive 200' - that's staggering!

  3. Hi Carole Yes I agree, it is amazing for this small duck to be able to dive so deep.

  4. oh, I LOVE long-tailed ducks! They are so special!

  5. It s interesting to come across ducks that live far out to sea.

  6. What a great find.
    Thank you for sharing it.

  7. That is special Margaret, I have never seen one.

  8. Not flashy, but very pretty. Love the diving shots.

  9. they are neat ducks. i like any duck that gets happy splashing. :)

  10. I think they are gorgeous, sturdy little ducks, fabulous photos.

  11. Beautiful pictures of the Long tailed duck.
    I've never seen them here.
    Greetings Irma

  12. Wonderful! We get them here in our area, but as you say, it is difficult to get close enough for a photograph. Nice shooting.

  13. Lovely birds. Though I have a weakness for all ducks (and birds too). Thank you.

  14. what a cutie, love the bottoms up!!

  15. Lovely ducks these are Margaret and your photos and video do them justice. Happy New Year!

  16. These are quite amazing! Love that long tail. Diving 200ft? Wow.

  17. I have not seen one, but they have been reported in the state of Texas this winter. Their color pattern is so unique. Love the 'bottoms up' image Margaret. And wherever you got all this information, it's good to read about them.

  18. I didn't know that they were such deep divers. Always learn something new when I come here :) Thanks for sharing with us.