No, this aged fowl is not frozen in time on an iceberg somewhere near the Arctic Circle. Instead, biologists in Glacier National Park have identified what they believe to be the third oldest banded harlequin duck to have ever lived. This male is estimated to be 17 years old, just months shy of the previous record holder at 18 years and 10 months.
“Prior to these findings, harlequin ducks were reported to live up to only 10 years of age, which makes this finding a positive indicator of the health and longevity of harlequin breeding populations in Glacier National Park,” said Lisa Bate, Glacier National Park researcher. “Research indicates harlequin ducks mate for life unless something happens to one member of the pair. This old male has returned the last three years with the same female.”
Harlequin ducks are small sea ducks that are considered endangered in North America because of habitat loss and are extremely vulnerable to environmental disasters like oil spills. In cooperation with scientists from the University of Montana, park officials conducted a study of the area’s harlequin ducks to gather information that would be useful to preserving duck habitat. Glacier National Park holds the highest density of harlequin ducks of anywhere in the lower 48 states, which amounts to 40 breeding pairs of birds. The ducks breed during the spring when they migrate inland, and tend to prefer running streams.
Because these birds are so sensitive to environmental changes, the harlequin ducks have not adapted well to human settlement. Females harlequins have been observed to breed only near the place of their birth, further exacerbating the bird’s decline. In Montana they are considered a species of special concern.
This particular duck however, seems to have outlived most of his fellows. Depending on species the average lifespan of a duck can vary wildly, although as a general rule of thumb the smaller ducks tend to be longer lived. According to Guinness World Records, the oldest recorded duck was a female mallard in the United Kingdom by the name of Desi. At her time of death she had lived for 20 years, three months, and 16 days.
Image courtesy National Park Service