|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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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.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsDistinctive 2-tone whistle; females quack.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Northern Pintail
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Northern Pintail
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.