Female Long-tailed Duck associating with Canada Goose

On Dec. 4 while taking one of my regular walks to my neighborhood birding hotspot, Otter View Park, I saw a large flock of Canada Geese downriver from the end of the boardwalk. I was counting them, 135 in all on the water and the bank which is a remarkable sighting in and of itself for this section of river, when I saw a small duck pop out from amongst them. It was showing a lot of white so my first thought was a Bufflehead or Hooded Merganser, but when it slotted itself in with the Goose flock I couldn’t help but remember the wayward Long-tailed Duck that visited the park back on Oct. 7. Observing this bird closely and seeing it exhibit the same behavior I saw before, sure enough that’s who it was! The first time it was here it was very cryptically patterned with a plumage between its summer and winter phases, but now it had finished that transition and was clearly recognizable as a female of the species.  Now you may ask how I can be so sure that this is the same duck that came before, and truthfully I can’t. But even given the long time between its appearances here, there are just far too many coincidences to ignore.

I didn’t have my scope with me so I ran home to get it and while I was there called Gary and Kathy Starr to return the favor they did me when they informed me about it the first time. They joined me and while we were viewing it together we witnessed one of the Geese show some aggression towards this little lady. Several times it literally tried to “goose” her prompting a short chase. This Long-tailed Duck may think that she is part of the family but it’s apparent not all the Geese in the flock feel the same way.

Though these ducks and geese may seem superficially similar these are two species have very different lifestyles. The Canada Goose is a dabbler that is equally comfortable feeding both on the water and on land. The Long-tailed Duck on the other hand is a champion diver, adept at going deep in lakes and ocean in pursuit of its food, which spends most of its life on the water and is very awkward on land. With this little duck so attached to a flock of Canadian Geese, one has to wonder what she does when they decide to land in the middle of a corn field.

I returned the next morning to see if the flock was still there but they had left sometime during the night. The repeated appearance of this flock means that they must have stayed somewhere in the Addison County area in the intervening time, and it is possible that they are still around. So if you should come across a flock of Canadian Geese in this region it might be worth your time to take an extra look at it to see if they have a little adoptee along with them.

– Ron Payne