Alaska Science Center

Long-tailed Duck, Clangula hyemalis

High-Priority Species List

A large proportion of the Alaskan breeding Long-tailed Ducks winter along the East coast of Asia. Approximately 15% of females marked in Alaska with satellite transmitters wintered as far south as Japan, North Korea, and the southern Sakhalin Islands near areas where Asian H5N1 has been identified.
Long-tailed Ducks breeding in Alaska are dispersed at very low densities throughout coastal tundra from the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay to the Arctic Coastal Plain. Long-tailed Ducks nest at very low densities and nests are difficult to locate. Long-tailed Ducks marked with satellite transmitters at a single breeding location on the Yukon Delta wintered from British Colombia to the Chukotka Peninsula (Petersen et al. 2003). Similar patterns were observed for molting Long-tailed Ducks marked in the lagoons along the Beaufort Sea. Thus, there is known to be exchange between Alaskan breeding females and Asian molting and wintering areas from satellite telemetry data, and some fraction of the Long-tailed Ducks that will be found in Alaska in 2006, are wintering very near areas with known Asian H5N1 exposure. However, wintering Long-tailed Ducks primarily utilize near shore and estuarine habitats reducing their likelihood of exposure. Breeding Long-tailed Ducks will be difficult to sample as they nest at very low densities and nests are difficult to find. There are no known molting concentrations associated with one of the primary nesting areas (i.e., the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta). Concentrations of molting birds that likely represent the Arctic Coastal Plain breeding population are found in the lagoons of the Beaufort Sea in late July and Early August. Large numbers are regularly counted in Simpson Lagoon, near the Maguire and Flaxman islands, and along the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Previous work on virus exposure (not avian influenza) of molting Long-tailed Ducks showed substantial variation in prevalence among flocks and locations (Hollmén et al. 2003). Thus, it seems clear that birds within flocks are not independent from the standpoint of virus exposure. During the flightless molt, flocks of birds are functionally isolated within lagoons as large areas of unsuitable habitat separate flocks (Flint et al. 2004); however, exchange of individuals prior to the molt likely creates a positive correlation in exposure probability within lagoons. Thus, a sampling strategy spread relatively uniformly across the molting range is the most effective sampling strategy for birds molting in clumped distributions.

No. of samples: A total of 600 birds will be sampled using a 2-stage stratified design. The first level of stratification will be at the level of lagoons or molting areas. The second level will consider functionally isolated flocks of flightless Long-tailed ducks within lagoons. Thus, we will sample 50 birds from each of 4 flocks within each lagoon yielding a total of 200 from each of 3 lagoons.
Sampling locations: Primary locations in order of priority include Flaxman/Maguire Islands, Simpson Lagoon, and the coast of the Arctic NWR. Secondary locations, within these lagoons, will be determined based on observed flock locations and movement patterns.
Sampling timeframe: Late July through early August.
Sample demographics: After-hatch-year males and females. The sample will be primarily post-breeding males and both failed and non-breeding (likely sub-adult) females.
Methods of capture: Flocks of flightless birds will be herded with boats and driven into water-based corral traps. This approach has been used to capture Long-tailed Ducks in the Beaufort Sea lagoons in the past.
Other targeted species: None, flocks of Long-tailed Ducks rarely mix with other species.
Supplemental sampling: Small numbers of Long-tailed Ducks can be sampled in conjunction with other ongoing studies. Small numbers of nests are found during various studies on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Fecal samples can be obtained from many of these nests.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Management (sampling at Simpson Lagoon)
Contact: Richard Lanctot

Arctic NWR (Sampling along Refuge and near Flaxman and Maguire Islands)
Contact: Steve Kendall
Flint, P. L., D. L. Lacroix, J. A. Reed, and R. B. Lanctot. 2004. Movements of flightless Long-tailed Ducks during wing molt. Waterbirds 27:35-40.

Hollmén, T. E., J. C. Franson, P. L. Flint, J. B. Grand, R. B. Lanctot, D. E. Docherty, H. M. Wilson. 2003. An Adenovirus Linked to Mortality and Disease in Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) in Alaska. Avian Diseases 47:1434-1440.

Petersen, M. R., B. J. McCaffery, and P. L. Flint 2003. Postbreeding distribution of Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Wildfowl 54: 129-139.

Distribution map of Long-tailed Duck

Ranking Score: 10.0

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Long-tailed Duck, Clangula hyemalis.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Approx 250,000 breed in northeastern Russia, unknown numbers cross to North America
No known use of AI-infected areas
Nests coastal tundra; postbreeding use estuarine area
Approx. 80,000 summer in western Alaska, 600,000 in northern Alaska and western Canada
Samples could be obtained easily from fall birds
Image of Long-tailed Duck, photo by C. Ely