Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

northern_pintail_pair_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a northern pintail pair floating on water.
A dabbling duck named for its long, tapered tail, the northern pintail is a common migrant in Missouri.
Noppadol Paothong
Family

Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Description

Adult male has a brown head, white breast, and a gray body, with a long, curved border on the neck where the brown meets the white. A narrow white streak extends up from the neck onto the head. The under tail coverts are black, and the upper tail coverts are long and tapered to a “pin tail.” The flanks are creamy buff. Female is brownish with a bronze speculum and solid gray bill; their tails are not as long as those of males. Females quack and males whistle.

Similar species: The northern pintail’s long neck and uniform brown (male) and tan (female) face distinguishes it from other ducks.

Key Identifiers

 

Drake:

  • long, slender white neck
  • pointed tail

Hen:

  • long, pointed wings
Size

Length: 27 inches (male); 21 inches (female) (tip of bill to tip of tail).

northern_pintail_pair_flying_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a pair of northern pintails in flight.
Northern Pintail Pair in Flight
The northern pintail’s long neck and uniform brown (male) and tan (female) face distinguishes it from other ducks.

northern_pintail_male_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a male northern pintail standing on a shore.
Northern Pintail (Male)
The adult male northern pintail has a brown head, white breast, and a curved border on the neck where the brown meets the white.

northern_pintail_flock_taking_flight_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a flock of northern pintails taking flight from a grassy wetland.
Northern Pintails Taking Flight
One key to identifying female northern pintails is their bronze-colored wing patches.

northern_pintail_pair_taking_flight_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a northern pintail pair taking flight from water's surface.
Northern Pintail Pair Taking Flight
Northern pintails, being dabbling ducks, can take flight easily by leaping right up from the water's surface.

northern_pintail_male_taking_flight_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a male northern pintail taking flight directly from water surface.
Male Northern Pintail Taking Flight
This male northern pintail is springing into flight directly from the water's surface.

northern_pintails_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of several male northern pintails standing in a grassy wetland area.
Northern Pintails
Northern pintails forage in shallow water on marshes, ponds, and lakes. They also commonly visit crop fields or stubble.

northern_pintail_flying_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of a male northern pintail in flight.
Male Northern Pintail in Flight
Northern pintails typically migrate through Missouri in spring and fall.

northern_pintail_females_floating_2-18-15.jpg

Photo of three female northern pintails floating on water.
Female Northern Pintails Floating on Water
Like other dabblers, pintails forage near the surface in shallow water, sifting mud through their bills to strain out the goodies.
Habitat and conservation

Northern pintails forage in shallow water on marshes, ponds, and lakes. They also commonly visit crop fields or stubble. They fly fast and often zigzag before leveling off to land. Pintails belong to a large group of ducks called “dabbling ducks” or “dipping ducks,” which rarely dive completely below the surface but instead tip forward with only their heads or fronts of their bodies under water. Mallards, teal, gadwall, shovelers, and wigeon are also in this group.

Foods

Like other dabblers, pintails forage near the surface in shallow water, sifting mud through their bills to strain out aquatic vegetation, sedges, seeds, and invertebrates. In winter, pintails often feed on grain in crop fields.

image of Northern Pintail distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common migrant. A few individuals have been observed during the summer, with nesting recorded. Uncommon winter resident statewide.

Life cycle

Like many other migratory waterfowl, northern pintails typically fly through Missouri in spring and fall as they move between their breeding grounds in Canada and northern U.S. states and their winter territory in about the southern half of the United States and Central America. Their nests are built on the ground in brushy or grassy places, usually away from water. As with other ducks, the young hatch covered with down and are able to walk around soon after hatching.

Human connections

In the early 1900s, waterfowl specialist Herbert K. Job wrote of the pintail: “Though I prefer it alive, I must admit that it is very fine on the table, and that I had just as soon eat it as any other Duck.” He also praised the then-new conservation laws that restored this duck’s numbers.

Ecosystem connections

Migratory waterfowl (and any migrating animal, for that matter) play important ecological roles in both breeding and overwintering territories. They also influence the ecology of every region they migrate through in spring and fall.