Sunday Duck o’ the Week

We continue with our weekly series on ducks seen in North America, with words and photos contributed by evolutionary biologist John Avise. Click “read more” at the bottom to see the ID John’s Duck Facts, and a range map. Try to identify the duck first, and then go to the answer:



Non-breeding drake:

Non-breeding drake:

Close-up of drake:

Click “read more” for ID, range map, and Fun Duck Facts.

ID: Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

Formerly called the “Oldsquaw” (a term now abandoned because it is offensive to indigenous peoples), the drake’s long tail gives this species its currently accepted name.  This is a very high-latitude duck; the birds nest near shallow tundra ponds along the coasts of Greenland and the edge of the Arctic Ocean, but then winter along North American coastlines and on the Great Lakes.  I‘ve never photographed, nor even seen, the adults in their jet-black-and-brown breeding plumage, but field-guide books show them to look much different from their whiter winter plumage [JAC: I’ve put photos below].  I’ve observed wild birds only once: on a frigid winter day offshore on Lake Michigan (near Chicago where Jerry Coyne lives).  My photos were taken of birds housed at the San Diego Zoo (yes, I know that’s kind of like cheating!).  They show the two sexes in their non-breeding or “basic” plumages.

Here’s a photo of ducks in their breeding plumage (right) contrasted to the winter plumage shown above (source: BirdNote):

A male in breeding plumage (also from Birdnote):

And a range map from the Cornell bird site:



6 thoughts on “Sunday Duck o’ the Week

  1. Love this series! I’ve been able to identify all the ducks that are commonly found in se PA and toward the coast, but not western ones or some of the migrants. This is good brain exercise! Maybe this series can be followed up by one on some other type of birds.

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