and long-necked, Northern Pintails have an elegant appearance
on water and in flight. The male in breeding plumage has a dark
brown head, white breast and throat, and a white line extending
up the neck. The body is light gray with black-edged feathers,
and the belly is white. The rump and the long tail are black.
The female is mottled brown-and-black with a pointed tail and
dark bronze speculum on its wing. Both sexes have gray legs and
a dark gray bill, although the bill of the male is lined with
blue on the sides. Males in eclipse plumage are similar to females,
but are grayer, with some white remaining on the sides of the
the breeding season, Northern Pintails use shallow ponds and
marshes in open areas. In winter they can be found around shallow
wetlands, exposed mudflats, flooded fields, or lakes. During
migration, they have been seen in offshore waters.
Pintails are wary, especially during their flightless stage in
late summer, when they are highly secretive. They will forage
on land, but find most of their food by dabbling in shallow,
fall and winter, Northern Pintails eat seeds and waste grain.
In spring and summer, roots and new shoots as well as aquatic
invertebrates make up the majority of the diet. As with many
other species of duck, the young eat a greater proportion of
invertebrates than the adults.
begins on the wintering grounds and continues through spring
migration. Northern Pintails are among the earliest nesters,
and arrive on the breeding grounds as soon as they are free of
ice. The nest is located on dry ground in short vegetation. It
is usually near water, but may be up to half a mile away from
the nearest body of water. Pintail nests are often more exposed
than other ducks' nests. The nest is a shallow depression, built
by the female and made of grass, twigs, or leaves, lined with
down. Incubation of the 6 to 10 eggs lasts from 21 to 25 days
and is done by the female alone. The pair bond dissolves shortly
after the female begins incubation, when the males gather in
flocks to molt. Within a few hours of hatching, the young follow
the female from the nest site. They can feed themselves, but
the female continues to tend them until they fledge at 38 to
52 days. In the far north where continuous daylight allows for
round-the-clock feeding, the young develop faster.
Pintails are early-fall migrants and begin to arrive on their
wintering grounds starting in August, although the peak of the
fall migration is in October in eastern Washington and November
in western Washington. The northward migration begins early in
the spring, from late February to mid-May, peaking in March and
early April. Many Pintail flocks migrate from Siberia across
the Bering Strait to winter in North America.
and common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, the Northern
Pintail is probably one of the most numerous species of duck
worldwide. Numbers in North America vary a great deal from year
to year, although some surveys have recorded significant, long-term
declines since the 1960s. Predators and farming operations destroy
many thousands of Northern Pintail nests each year. Farming has
also affected nesting habitat. Pintails appear to be responding
to new conservation practices, however, including habitat restoration
and tighter restrictions on hunting, and numbers seem to be increasing.
If these practices are maintained, Northern Pintails should be
able to maintain a healthy population in North America.