Long-tailed Duck in a flock of Canada Goose - Photos by Gary Starr

On October 7th I received an email from Gary Starr informing me that there was a strange duck hanging out with a small flock of Canada Goose at Otter View Park in Middlebury. I went over to check it out and it turned out to be quite a tricky ID. It was small and mostly brown with what appeared to be a white stripe across its face.  Initially I thought it might be a female Ruddy Duck but the pattern wasn’t exactly right. After long consultation with field guides I realized that what I was looking at was actually a female Long-tailed Duck transitioning between summer and winter plumage. Long-tailed Ducks are seen in Vermont during migration but are much more commonly seen on Lake Champlain than inland so this was definitely an unusual sighting for this location.

What was especially interesting about this bird was how attached it was to the flock of eight Canada Goose. Twice I saw it take off and fly south along the river, assuming that would be the last I would see of it, but both times it immediately turned around and went back to where the Geese were and napped alongside them. I went home and came back again a few hours later to see if it was still there. I couldn’t see it when I arrived but after a while I saw the Geese coming out of a marshy area across the river and sure enough the Long-tailed Duck was right there with them. As the group swam upstream the Long-tailed tried to take off a couple of times, but when the Geese didn’t take wing as well it landed and got back in line with them. After one of these short hops a pair of Wood Ducks flew over to join the Long-tailed but it spurned their interest and immediately returned to the side of the Canada Goose flock. About this time Gary, his wife Kathy and others came to view the duck again which was now resting with the Geese on the shore. After about a half hour the Geese started swimming out into the river with the Long-tailed Duck following along. Finally this time one of the Geese initiated a takeoff and the whole group went together, the Long-tailed Duck slotting into the little skein like it was one of the family. Luckily Gary was able to capture the action with his camera.

– Ron Payne