Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Long-tailed Duck - Clangula hyemalis
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General Comments This species was long known as the Oldsquaw, but its name was changed in recent years to conform to the common name used in Europe and to end a slightly derogatory name for a female Native American. In its behavior and distribution in the state, it is basically a "mottled scoter", being a winter resident and visitor essentially restricted to salt/brackish water. Nearly all of the state's population winters on Pamlico Sound, especially in the northern portion near Swan Quarter, where birders can usually see the species from that ferry crossing. Away from that body of water, Long-tailed Ducks are mainly seen as pairs or small groups in flight over the inshore ocean, or near jetties, piers, or rocks along the coast. A modest inland flurry of records came in early 2014, along with a major movement of White-winged Scoters and especially Red-necked Grebes, likely owing to freeze-up of northern lakes.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, slightly declining in recent years. Fairly common in a rather small area of northwestern Pamlico Sound near Swan Quarter; elsewhere, uncommon winter visitor along the northern coast, including the inshore ocean; rare to uncommon elsewhere in the Tidewater area and also along the southern half of the coast. Very rare in inland portions, with about 10 known records; peak counts are 4 each at a pond in Edgecombe on 2 Mar 2014 and at Spring Valley Lake (Moore) on 9 Mar 2014. Mainly early Nov to mid-Apr. Peak counts: 5,000, Pamlico Sound, 28 Feb 1981.
Piedmont Transient and winter visitor. Rare, mainly at large reservoirs in the eastern and central parts of the province, though it does occur on smaller lakes and large ponds. As with the scoters, individuals seldom remain for more than a few days, presumably put down by bad weather, for the most part. At least seven records were made in the province in Jan-Mar 2014, and a similar number of records came in Jan 2018. Late Oct to late Mar. Peak counts: 22, Salem Lake (Forsyth), 14 Jan 2018; 12 (maximum during the period), Lake Norman, 10 Dec 1983 - 20 Jan 1984; 11, Beaverdam Reservoir (Wake), 27 Nov 1977; 9, Camp Harrison (Wilkes), 23-26 Feb 2014.
Mountains Winter visitor. Very rare, with only six known records, all but one of single individuals: in Buncombe, 17 Dec 1989; at Lake Atagahi (Transylvania), 15-17 Feb 1998; at a pond at Biltmore Forest Golf Course (Buncombe), 17-23 Feb 2014; at Ecusta Pond (Transylvania), 11 Dec 2016; at the Mills River Wastewater Treatment Plant (Henderson), 11 Nov 2017; and at Lake Julian (Buncombe), 14-28 Feb 2022. There are records for both Lake James and Lake Tahoma, at the base of the mountains, but these are technically in the Piedmont province. Peak count: 2, Mills River WTP, 11 Nov 2017.
Finding Tips To see Long-tailed Ducks in NC, you should take the Swan Quarter to Ocracoke ferry. The species is usually not missed there in winter, and often (at least formerly) seen in the low hundreds, several miles out from Swan Quarter. In mild winters, the species is harder to find. Away from Pamlico Sound, your best bet is to ocean-watch along the northern coast, where a few might be seen flying low over the surf. Scattered birds are irregularly present on the ocean, in inlets, and at other coastal sites such as around jetties, but they are missed on many coastal CBC's; in fact, it is more often missed than seen on CBC's south of Cape Hatteras.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2022-04-25], LeGrand[2018-06-09]
NC Map
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