A Long-tailed Duck was first seen at Rainbow Lake on December 8 by John Shipley and then documented with photos by Jon Orona on eBird, the decades-old online database of bird observations by citizen scientists that was developed and created by the Audubon Society and Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.
The duck was still present on December 12 and still diving for food near the dam across from the boat launch. Like many of our wintering waterfowl, it could go elsewhere soon.
Long-tailed Ducks are small water birds – ~16 inches. They are usually found in saltwater this time of year and breed in Arctic tundra pools. They can dive as deep as 200 feet and feed mainly on invertebrates. Their name was changed from Old Squaw in 2000 because some biologists feared that it could offend Native Americans who were needed to help with conservation efforts. Like so many species, they are declining in numbers and listed as vulnerable.
The Rainbow Lake Long-tailed Duck was seen with a small flock of Ruddy Ducks and is about the same size with a smaller bill. It is probably an immature male or a female since it has no long tail. It probably flew in with a Bufflehead that was diving nearby and breeds in the far north. It is larger than they are, with a more solid white head and more white markings on its body.
The other migrant waterfowl observed on the large local lake right now include Common Goldeneye, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Gadwall, and Lesser Scaup. Also present are species that live in this area year-round – Canada Geese, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, and, of course, a messy mix of Mallards.
“Do not feed the ducks and do not dump domestic ducks that will compete with native species.”
The Rainbow Reservoir sighting is one of very few for Navajo County, and none have been listed in Apache County on eBird to date. The first Long-tailed Duck for Navajo County was documented at the Hidden Cove Golf Course irrigation pond in Holbrook in February of 2009, and one was recorded at the Wastewater Treatment Ponds in November of 2017. Other rare sightings include one at Snowflake Cottonwood Wash in January of 2015. Some have recently been listed at Lake Mead and at Ashurst Lake in Coconino County. There have been only a few documented sightings in Arizona over the years, including at the Glendale Recharge Ponds in 2016 and 2017.
Others were enjoyed by birders at Patagonia Lake and at Coon Bluff along the Salt River in 2020.
Be on the lookout; They fly!
Check out the White Mountain Audubon Society: whitemountainaudubon.org
Or catch up with them on Facebook: WhiteMountainAudubonSociety
Submitted by Mary Williams, White Mountain Audubon Society President.
Picture Credit: Distant diagnostic photo of Rainbow Lake rare Long-tailed Duck by John Shipley.
Most research and photos from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Mountain Daily Star Staff.