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Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

This dabbling duck species sometimes flies into Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo from the Pequonnock River.  The Northern Pintail Duck has a distinctive silhouette; they have long necks and long pointed tail feathers. The distinctive tail feathers have led to some of the nicknames for Northern Pintail Ducks that include ‘sprig’, ‘spike’, and ‘spiketail’.

Northern Pintail Ducks can fly up to 65 miles per hour. They have earned the title of “nomads of the skies” due to their extensive migratory routes.

DESCRIPTION: Northern Pintail Ducks are medium-sized ducks. They have a slim, long neck and a long, pointed tail. They have black bills, dark brown eyes and gray legs. Their wingspans are approximately 35 inches across.

The male and female Northern Pintail Ducks are not noticeably different in size.  They are between 20 and 30 inches in length. They weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. 

A male Northern Pintail Duck, called a drake, has two distinctive sets of plumage. The breeding plumage consists of chocolate brown plumage covering his head with white plumage covering the neck and lower body. The sides and upper back are gray. The long, lower back feather are black with pale edges. The rear of the wing contains a bright patch of plumage (called the speculum) and is bronzy greenish with a black band and white rear edge. The eclipse plumage is a duller version of the breeding plumage and is brownish overall. 

A female Northern Pintail Duck, called a hen, has gradations of tan plumage on the face and body. The plumage on the lower breast and belly are white. They have long pointed tails but they are usually a little shorter than the males’ tails. 

Northern Pintail Ducks are not very vocal most of the time. When they do vocalize the females’ vocalization is a hoarse “quack” similar to a mallard, while the males’ is a whistle-like “kwee” sound.

They pick up food on the surface of the ground but they are also dabblers meaning they filter feed in shallow water by tipping, or “up-ending”.

RANGE:  These migratory birds may be found in most of North America in different seasons.  They have been found on every continent except Antarctica.

HABITAT:  They build nests by scraping out shallow bowls and lining them with down and grasses. They nest in open country with shallow, seasonal wetlands and tall grasses to conceal their nests. Northern Pintail Ducks spend the winter in a wide variety of shallow inland freshwater bodies or intertidal habitats

DIET:  Omnivore – small seeds, grains, weeds, aquatic plants and insects, small crustaceans, and snails

FAMILY LIFE:  Northern Pintail Ducks choose a new mate every year. The hen lays and incubates a clutch of 5 to 10 eggs. Within hours of hatching, the down-covered ducklings are able to leave the nest. The hen will lead them to nearby water to feed on dead insects until they are fledged in about 45 days.

LIFE SPAN:  The average life span is 22 years in the wild or in human care.  

STATUS:  Least Concern