Bird Database

Long-tailed Duck

(Clangula hyemalis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Climate change, pollution, fishing nets

Conservation Actions

Manage waterfowl harvest, research tthreats

Long-tailed Duck

(Clangula hyemalis)

The elegant Long-tailed Duck is a winter visitor to the New Hampshire coast from breeding grounds in arctic Canada and Alaska. It nests farther north than most other ducks, with some nesting on Ellsmere Island less than 600 miles from the North Pole. Like other arctic sea ducks it dives for its food, in this case primarily crustaceans (all year), insect larvae (summer), and small mollusks (winter). It tends to eat smaller prey than species like eiders and scoters. Its claim to fame in this department is its diving prowess. While other diving ducks tend to descend up to 50 feet (and often much less), Long-tailed Ducks have been recorded down to an impressive 200 feet. Perhaps just as impressive, they do this by flapping their wings underwater, rather than using their feet as other species do.

Another thing that sets the Long-tailed Duck apart is that it has three distinct plumages over the course of the year rather than two. Other ducks have a long-lasting “breeding plamage” (e.g., the distinctive dabbling ducks such as Mallards) and a shorter female-like “eclipse plumage” during the summer when they are flightless. Long-tailed Ducks have very distinct winter and summer plumages, neither of which is terribly cryptic, and a third supplemental plumage sandwiched between the two in late summer and early fall. We mostly see the winter plumage in New Hampshire, but Long-tailed Ducks begin shifting to their breeding season coloration starting in April, and you can see this change occurring until they depart in May. The supplemental plumage is only seen on the breeding grounds.

Long-tailed duck populations have been in slow decline for decades, although there are signs that the declines are slowing in some portions of their range. Causes are largely speculative, but in the past included entanglement in fishing gear, oil spills, and contaminants such as lead. More recently there has been concern about the impacts of climate change and offshore wind development on this species.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Long-tailed Duck
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count