Donald Dvorak/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

Conservation status Widespread and abundant, but many surveys have suggested a significant decline since the 1960s. Numbers vary considerably; series of drought years on the northern plains may drastically reduce nesting success there.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Marshes, prairies, fresh ponds, lakes, salt bays. Summers in wide variety of open habitats, including prairies, farmland, northern tundra, near bodies of water. In migration and winter around any shallow waters with exposed mudflats, including fresh and brackish marshes, lakes, flooded fields.
Widespread across North America, Europe, and Asia, the Northern Pintail is probably one of the most numerous duck species in the world (although outnumbered by the omnipresent Mallard). Slim and long-necked, it has an elegant appearance both on the water and in flight. Pintails are wary at all seasons, and become very secretive during the flightless stage of their molt in late summer.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages in shallow water by up-ending with tail up and head down, or by submerging head and neck while swimming, finding most food in underwater mud. Also forages by walking on land.


Eggs

7-10, sometimes 6-12. Pale olive. Incubation is by female only, 21-25 days. Young: female leads young from nest within a few hours after they hatch. Young feed themselves. Capable of flight at 38-52 days after hatching; in far north, where continuous daylight allows for feeding at all hours, young may develop faster.


Young

female leads young from nest within a few hours after they hatch. Young feed themselves. Capable of flight at 38-52 days after hatching; in far north, where continuous daylight allows for feeding at all hours, young may develop faster.

Diet

Mostly seeds, insects. Diet mostly plant material in fall and winter, especially seeds of grasses, sedges, pondweeds, and others, and waste grain in fields. In spring and summer also feeds on roots and new growth. More animal matter in summer, mainly insects, mollusks, crustaceans; sometimes tadpoles, small fish. Young ducklings eat mostly insects.


Nesting

Pair formation begins on winter range and continues during spring migration, with some birds perhaps not paired until after arrival on breeding grounds. Several males often court one female, leading to pursuit flights. Nest site is on dry ground among short vegetation, usually near water but can be up to 1/2 mile away; often more exposed than nests of other ducks. Nest (built by female) a shallow depression lined with grasses, twigs, leaves, with addition of down.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Migrates in flocks. Northward migration begins early in spring, southward migration is under way for much of fall. Many pintails nesting in Siberia cross the Bering Strait to winter in North America.

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Migration

Migrates in flocks. Northward migration begins early in spring, southward migration is under way for much of fall. Many pintails nesting in Siberia cross the Bering Strait to winter in North America.

Songs and Calls
Distinctive 2-tone whistle; females quack.