Long-tailed Jaeger

The Long-tailed Jaeger is one of the three species from the family Stercorarius. This species is the smallest of these three species. They are also the most elegant fliers on this list. Long-tailed Jaegers are diurnal birds that perform trans-equatorial migration which allows them to forage for longer hours, as they usually stopover or settle in regions with longer days. This behavior also allows Long-tailed Jaegers to be highly productive year-round.

About Long-tailed Jaegers

Long-tailed Jaegers are most commonly found foraging in the Arctic tundra during the breeding season, and they spend their time over water bodies in winters. Although this species spends 75% of its life at sea, most research about them has been conducted on their Arctic breeding grounds. North American breeding populations of Long-tailed Jaegers are never seen south of Alaska and Canada. There is not much information available about vagrant Long-tailed Jaegers.

Long-tailed Jaegers are the most common Jaegers in the Arctic. Their breeding range is the farthest among all other jaegers. Actually, perhaps no other bird species breeds as far north as Long-tailed Jaegers do.

During the breeding season, Long-tailed Jaegers feed on lemmings and voles in their dry tundra habitat. Other than dry tundra, they might also occupy low slopes, or ridges during the breeding season. As these birds mainly feed on voles and lemmings, they can be affected by fluctuating densities of these rodents.

The silver lining here is that Long-tailed Jaegers only depend on rodents in their breeding habitat, so if there is a sharp decline in rodent densities, they can still survive, unlike some other predators which primarily survive on rodents. In case, pickings are especially slim in their breeding habitats, Long-tailed Jaegers can just skip a breeding cycle. Due to such adaptive practices, breeding populations of Long-tailed Jaegers are stable. In fact, Long-tailed Jaegers can be the ones responsible for low populations of rodents like lemmings by consuming them whole-heartedly during the breeding season.

Long-tailed Jaegers that migrate to North America generally travel alone. This species is not often observed near the shore, as it mostly migrates over the ocean. Species of Jaegers are extremely hard to differentiate from each other. This identification becomes even harder, and almost impossible when these birds are not breeding. All the species that come under the genus Stercorarius have similar basic plumages, and they also undergo several molts through the years. More identification challenges can be related to polymorphic, and individual-related variation. Juvenile Long-tailed Jaegers are also extremely difficult to differentiate from other species of Jaegers. Don’t these birds seem extremely interesting? Let’s learn more about them.

● Long-tailed Jaegers Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Long-tailed Jaegers Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
● Long-tailed Jaegers Range and Migration, Nesting


Long-tailed Jaeger Color Pattern

In their breeding plumage, Long-tailed Jaegers have grayish upperparts, and black retrices and remiges. Their head is the only upper part that isn’t gray, instead, it is white with a brownish-black cap. This cap extends to the eye and gape. Both sexes in the breeding plumage look similar, but males might have slightly whiter underparts. Differentiating sexes on the field will be very difficult.

Long-tailed Jaegers in their basic plumage have brown and barred retrices, somewhat like juveniles in their breeding plumage. They have a dark pectoral band due to molting and wear of Long-tailed Jaegers which make their plumage similar to the plumage of Parasitic Jaegers. Long-tailed Jaegers in North America have never been spotted in their breeding plumage. Juvenile Long-tailed Jaegers are significantly paler than adults. They have almost no black plumage feathers, as juveniles are predominantly brown.

Description and Identification

Long-tailed Jaegers are very rarely confused with other species when they are in their breeding plumage. By mass, they are similar to Laughing Gulls, and they are separated from Pomarine Jaegers by the difference in mass. Pomarine Jaegers are significantly larger in size and mass.

Some other features that can help in differentiating Long-tailed Jaegers are their breeding plumage is the absence of breast-band which is generally present in other Jaegers. This isn’t the best manner of identifying these birds, because sometimes Parasitic Jaegers may also be missing a breast band. Other features that assist in identifying these birds include contrast on the upper portion of wing coverts, absence of white color on the bottom of the forehead, and bluish legs. Long-tailed Jaegers also have relatively narrower wings.

Juveniles and Long-tailed Jaegers in their basic plumage are impossible to accurately differentiate from other Jaegers. Several ornithologists have been trying unsuccessfully to find techniques to correctly identify Jaeger immatures. Vocalizations are also not very helpful for distinguishing these birds.

Long-tailed Jaeger Song

Long-tailed Jaegers perform three basic vocalizations. These are the “kreck”, “kliu”, and “keup” vocalizations. The “kreck” and “kliu” vocalization can also sound like “kree”, “kreea”, and “kree”. These two vocalizations are different from the mewing calls frequented made by Parasitic Jaegers. Long-tailed Jaegers make these vocalizations specifically while interacting with avian or mammalian intruders. Other species like Gulls also produce 2 similar alarm calls when
approached by potential predators, but those alarm calls aren’t so highly specific.

The long call is a mixture of modified “kliu” and standard “kreck” notes. The call begins and ends with brief “kreck” notes, and the middle portion of it has longer “kliu”-like notes. This call is a shrill “kri-kri-kri”, then a “kr-r-r-r-r”, or “kreeeuuuuu”. If neighboring conspecifics hear this call, they generally sing along. Immatures use a single “kliu” note to communicate with their parents. This call becomes shriller when the parent approaches the young ones.

“Kuep” notes are usually by females when flying over an area with low vegetation. Young Long-tailed Jaegers generally hide in these areas, and females utter this call to communicate with them. Sometimes, males also utter this call. Females also make this call when males bring them food. In some territorial encounters, this call is accompanied by a slow wing-beat display. Males are more likely to utter this call during such displays than during any other interaction.

This is perhaps because it is extremely challenging to even identify immature Long-tailed Jaegers. Studying their vocal development seems like a very complicated task.

Long-tailed Jaeger Size

Long-tailed Jaegers are the smallest species in their family. As their name suggests, they have relatively long tails. They are 15-23 inches long, with a wingspan between 40-46 inches. Their weight can range between 8.1-15.7 ounces.

Long-tailed Jaeger Behavior

Long-tailed Jaegers are one of the more elegant and agile fliers in the family of Stercorarius. They frequently hover in the air. Most people who have the pleasure to sight them in their Arctic habitat generally recognize their elegance and agility. Although Long-tailed Jaegers are more graceful, Parasitic jaegers are faster than them in a direct flight.

After foraging, Long-tailed Jaegers visit nearby water bodies to bathe. They dip their bill in the water and shake it sideways and back and forth. Long-tailed Jaegers command larger territories than most other Jaegers, and they depend on their aerial displays to maintain these territories. Mostly when they are having territorial disputes, Long-tailed Jaegers utter the long call while gliding. While gliding Long-tailed Jaegers keep their wings bowed downwards so that they can intimidate their opponents by displaying the white shafts in their outer primaries. Their bill is wide open throughout the duration of the call.

If intruders are approaching the nest, this display is directed towards them, and if they are near the breeding territory, or crossing them, it is performed parallel to them. Almost half of these interactions result in attacks. Gliding displays are especially common in the central parts of the territories, whereas slow wing-beat displays are more common at
territorial boundaries. When Long-tailed Jaegers perform slow wing-beat displays, there are lesser occurrences of

Long-tailed Jaeger Diet

The breeding cycle of Long-tailed Jaegers is heavily dependant on the availability of rodents such as lemmings and voles. Attempts of reproduction might not even occur if there is a scarce density of rodents. In the high Arctic, Long-tailed Jaegers almost exclusively prey on collared lemmings, in the absence of which copulation does not occur.

Rodent populations are generally cyclic. Peaks occur in intervals of 4-5 years, and availability gradually decreases after the peak. Intermediate availability of rodents will be there one year before and after the peak. Long-tailed Jaegers are not exclusively dependant on Long-tailed Jaegers in the nonbreeding season. During this time, they also consume other foods such as arthropods, berries, and juvenile birds. If rodents are completely absent from a certain area, they can also resort to scavenging for survival. Considering that, Long-tailed Jaegers are opportunistic feeders. Animal matter eaten near waterbodies includes invertebrates, fish, and offal. Surface feeding is observed when their prey is in water.

Long-tailed Jaeger Habitat

The arctic tundra is preferable habitat for Long-tailed Jaegers to breed. Their habitat is generally far away from the sea. Sometimes, they also breed in marshy areas or in regions abundant with sedge. Sometimes, they also occupy drier spots in higher elevations. Other breeding habitats inhabited by them include open areas with patches of bare
grounds, and habitats that have a presence of dwarf shrubs. Through most of the nonbreeding season, Long-tailed Jaegers can be found on the open ocean. Limited information is available about their wintering habitats.

Range and Migration

The breeding range of Long-tailed Jaegers covers the entire North Pole. It includes parts of Russia, Canada, America, and Greenland. These birds are completely migratory in nature. The farthest south they can go during breeding season is at 61 degrees north latitude. During winter, Long-tailed Jaegers migrate southwards.

Long-tailed Jaeger Lifecycle

Long-tailed Jaegers arrive in their breeding areas between May-June. Within a few days following arrival, breeding territories are formed. Long-tailed Jaegers observed in northeastern Greenland were observed arriving along the edge of sea ice, approximately a week before they traveled inland. Breeding territories take longer to form in inland areas.
This is because they often require snow cover to come down to 50% before breeding, and coastal areas generally have a less dense cover of snow.

Long-tailed Jaegers lay between 1-2 eggs per clutch. They do not raise or attempt more than one brood. The incubation period lasts for 23-25 days, and nestlings take only about a couple of days to fledge.


Long-tailed Jaegers do not construct elaborate nests. Their nests are basically tiny depressions in the ground which lack any sort of lining. These nests are usually built in the tundra, or among dwarf shrubs, gravel, or on low rises, gentle slopes.

Anatomy of a Long-tailed Jaeger

Long-tailed Jaegers are small birds with long tails. In fact, their tail makes up more than half of its body length. They have short bills and medium-sized tarsi.

Final Thoughts

Long-tailed Jaegers are magnificent and striking birds. It is truly fascinating that they can reside in the northernmost portions of the world. These agile birds are enjoying stable populations because of their adaptive mechanisms, and hopefully, they continue to do so!


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