Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Usually found on tidal fresh and brackish wetlands and nearby shallow waters; also lives on freshwater streams, creeks, ponds and lakes.

  • Range

    Visits the Chesapeake Bay region beginning in early autumn, leaving in early spring to migrate northward for the summer.

  • Diet

    Feeds on seeds from bay grasses and aquatic plants; will also eat small insects and crustaceans, grains and seeds from farms and fields

  • Lifespan

    22 years

  • Status

    Stable

The northern pintail is a dabbling duck with long, pointed tail feathers. It visits fresh and brackish tidalmarshes and rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay region from autumn through spring.

Appearance

The northern pintail is named for its long, pointed tail feathers. The female's tail is much shorter than the male's needle-like tail. Males and females have different patterns and coloring. Males have a dark brown head, a white neck and breast, and a grayish back. A finger-like white stripe extends from the neck into the brown part of the side of the head. Females are mottled brown all over with a tan head and neck. Males and females both have betallic brown wing patches (called specula) with a white border on one side. Pintails have long, slender necks and grayish bills. They grow to about 26 to 30 inches in length with a wingspan of about 35 inches.

Feeding

These ducks eat mostly seeds from bay grasses and aquatic plants, but will also eat small insects and crustaceans as well as grains and seeds from farms and fields. They feed at the water’s surface or by “tipping up” their tails and submerging heads to reach food underwater.

Predators

Humans are pintails’ greatest predator. Bobcats and coyotes prey upon adult pintails, while gulls, foxes and raccoons eat eggs and young.

Flight

The pintail takes off by jumping straight from the water. It can be identified in flight by its long, pointed tail feathers.

Voice

The male’s call is a soft, double-toned whistle that sounds like kwee-hee. Females make a low, hoarse quack.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Pintails do not nest and breed in the Bay region, instead nesting throughout the central continental United States, as well as in Canada and Alaska. They can live as long as 22 years in the wild.

Did You Know?

  • The northern pintail gets its name from its long, pin-like tail. It is also known as a sprig, short for "sprig-tail."
  • It has the largest breeding range of any duck in North America and can migrate very long distances in relatively short periods of time. A northern pintail was once banded in Labrador, Canada, and shot by a hunter in England nine days later.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Usually found on tidal fresh and brackish wetlands and nearby shallow waters; also lives on freshwater streams, creeks, ponds and lakes.

  • Range

    Visits the Chesapeake Bay region beginning in early autumn, leaving in early spring to migrate northward for the summer.

  • Diet

    Feeds on seeds from bay grasses and aquatic plants; will also eat small insects and crustaceans, grains and seeds from farms and fields

  • Lifespan

    22 years

  • Status

    Stable