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Yorkshire coast icons: The Long-tailed Duck

June 30, 2014

This article was originally published here by Yorkshire Coast Nature in 2014

There’s no such thing as a boring seaduck, but even by their high standards, they don’t come any more captivating and uniquely ornate than Long-tailed Ducks, enthuses YCN’s Mark James Pearson

Of all the birds likely to be encountered on the Yorkshire coast, it’s hard to think of a more fascinating, charismatic and evocative group than the seaducks. In turn, it’s hard to think of a more exotic member of their clan than the Long-tailed Duck, a scarce and much sought-after visitor to our local shores.

They come in many guises, a reflection of their uniquely complicated moult strategy (which involves upwards of three separate moults annually); but in any plumage, at any time of year, they’re a beautiful bird. Winter females and immatures are smart enough, while summer males – a real rarity in Yorkshire, but one I was lucky enough to study in Filey Bay quite recently – are a unique combination of dark-, milk- and white chocolate tones.

It’s the winter male, however, that justifiably inspires the most superlatives, and few avian visitors to our coastline can compare with their bold, rakish splendour. Their strikingly snow-white plumage is accentuated by dove-grey flanks, face patches and elaborately-overlaying scapulars, which in turn contrast with jet black cheeks, mantle and tail-streamers – the latter an elegant, wispy combination of two elongated feathers.

Feeding mainly on molluscs obtained on regular forays to the seabed, Long-tailed Ducks are most often found where such conditions and food availablity suit them; sheltered rocky bays and reefs are particularly favoured. Their habitat preferences – and the challenges often presented in getting close to them – add further to an allure already encouraged by their relative rarity.

Most of the major watchpoints record a handful each year, although rarely many more, and then usually involving fly-bys in the late autumn and winter; even then, they’re normally only encountered as a result of many hours sea-watching during peak periods. Sometimes, however, individuals frequent a chosen spot along our coast for an extended period, and it’s these opportunities which allow many to connect with these sublime seaducks.

Words and pictures copyright Mark James Pearson 2014



























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