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).
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).
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,
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).
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
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.