Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Long-tailed Jaeger - Stercorarius longicaudus
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General Comments The Long-tailed Jaeger is certainly one of the most elegant of the "pelagic birds", and an adult with a full-length tail is a memorable sight on a pelagic trip. The Long-tailed is also clearly the least numerous of the three jaegers off our coast, and many birders must make 5-10 or more trips at the appropriate season to see one. Though a few have been seen in spring migration crossing over Cape Hatteras Point, practically all other state records are from far offshore. Unlike the other two jaegers, this species completely departs the north Atlantic in winter, and it is also seldom seen in midsummer. There are only four inland records, one from the Tidewater zone and three from the Piedmont.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient, essentially offshore. Rare to uncommon during a brief period in late spring, and rare over an extended period in fall. There are scattered spring records from Cape Hatteras Point, where this and other pelagic species can be seen during and after easterly winds, particularly in the last 10-15 days of May or into very early Jun. One Tidewater record: one seen at New Bern on 30 Aug 1999 (after Hurricane Dennis). Mainly mid-May to early Jun, and mid-Jul to late Sep, with a few records into early Nov. The relative scarcity of the species on pelagic trips in fall may be due to the very prolonged fall migration and the much smaller number of trips at that season compared with the end of May and early Jun. Remarkable was one seen on a pelagic trip out of Oregon Inlet on 20 Dec 1984 [Chat 49:82 link]. Peak counts: 12 flying over Cape Hatteras Point, 28 May 1987; 11 off Hatteras, 30 May 2015; 7 on five occasions.
Piedmont Casual visitor. Three records: one found dead under a TV tower near Raleigh on 26 Aug 1960; an adult seen at Lake Norman on 9 Sep 1998; and an adult photographed at Lake Norman on 24 Aug 2013* [Chat 78:27 link]. The specimen had originally been identified as a Parasitic Jaeger, for many years.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This species is best seen by taking a pelagic trip to the waters of the Gulf Stream in the latter half of May, or from mid-Aug to late Sep. The best places to look are along weedlines where large numbers of terns are feeding. Long-taileds are seen on about 1/4 to 1/3 of pelagic trips in late May and on perhaps 1/4 of the trips in the fall. Fall birds can be difficult to identify, and many have probably been called Parasitics in the past. If you are one of those birders who shun pelagic trip birding, you should be looking from Cape Hatteras Point in late May or early Jun, especially during or after easterly winds.
* to **
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2022-12-22], LeGrand[2018-02-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.