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Northern Pintail
Anas acuta



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae

Physical Characteristics

The male is about 28 inches (70 cm) and the female is about 21 inches (53 cm) in length (Peterson, 1990). The male's head is cinnamon-brown, the neck is long, the breast and under-feathers are white, with the white extending forward on each side of the head, ending as a point in the brown head markings; the front of the back and the sides are a very finely striped grey, the middle tail feathers are long and black, the long scapulars are striped in velvety-black and grey, the speculum is a coppery or violet color bordered to the front by brown and to the back by black and white bars. The adult female is brown, blackish on top of her head, the sides of the head and entire neck are buffy-brown and streaked, with the throat being lighter; the upper parts and sides are marked with dark U-shaped patterns and white borders; the speculum is brown, partly iridescent (Ligon, 1961).


A. acuta is found in a variety of habitats, given its tremendous range. Prairie and tundra habitats that feature open areas that contain shallow marshes, quiet rivers, and shallow lakes are preferred. Dense, but low, vegetation or brushy thickets or copses are also ideal (Johnsgard, 1978). In the El Paso region the Bosque del Apache is a preferred site. They may even be spotted at cattle watering tanks (Ligon, 1961).

Geographic Range

The acuta group of this species is found primarily in North America from northern Alaska eastward though northern Yukon, northern Mackenzie, southern Victoria Island, northern Keewatin, Southampton Island, northern and eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia south to southwestern and south-central Alaska, along the Pacific coast to southern California, eastward to northern Arizona, southern New Mexico, Kansas, central Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, northern Ohio, northern New York, and Massachusetts (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983). Winters to northern South America.


During the summer and fall the Northern Pintail is primarily a vegetarian, eating seeds and vegetative parts of pond weeds and wigeon grass along with seeds of bulrushes and smartweeds. Yet, during the pre-laying and laying periods, nesting females consume many invertebrates from the shallow and seasonally wet habitats (Johnsgard, 1978). Then, during winter, grain residue from agricultural fields is chosen (Leopold, et al., 1981).

Reproductive Characteristics

Females mate and attempt to nest as yearlings. Nest sites are often up to a mile away from water. Nests are put in dead herbaceous growth from the previous year, which affords little concealment from sight-hunters. Eggs are laid daily early in the morning; the average clutch is nine oval, cream-colored eggs. The incubation period is 21 days followed by a fledging period of 35-45 days. Males usual migrate to their molting grounds at the start of the incubation period (Johnsgard, 1978). The eggs have also been described as pale olive-green or olive-buff (Ligon, 1961).


The Northern Pintail is also known as the Common Pintail and the Sprig (Johnsgard, 1978). The males' voice is a double toned whistle prrip, prrip, while the females' is a low quack (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1978. Ducks, geese, and swans of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 404 pp.

Leopold, A.S., R.J. Gutierrez, M.T. Bronson. 1981. North American game birds and mammals. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 198 pp.

Ligon, J.S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. The University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996; A. H. Harris, 20 February 2000.


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