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Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

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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.


  • 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
  • Long, slender neck
  • Grayish bill
  • Long, pointed tail feathers. The female’s tail is much shorter than the male’s needle-like one.
  • Metallic brown wing patches (called specula) with a white border on one side
  • Grows to about 26-30 inches with a wingspan of about 35 inches


  • Usually found on tidal fresh and brackish wetlands and nearby shallow waters
  • Also lives on freshwater streams, creeks, ponds and lakes


  • Visits the Chesapeake Bay region beginning in early autumn
  • Leaves in early spring to migrate northward for the summer


  • Eats mostly seeds from bay grasses and aquatic plants
  • Will also eat small insects and crustaceans
  • Feeds at the water’s surface or by “tipping up” its tail and submerging its head to reach food underwater
  • Also eats grains and seeds from farms and fields


  • Humans are pintails’ greatest predator
  • Bobcats and coyotes prey upon adult pintails
  • Gulls, foxes and raccoons eat eggs and young


  • Takes off by jumping straight from the water
  • Can be identified in flight by its long, pointed tail feathers


  • Male’s call is a soft, double-toned whistle that sounds like kwee-hee
  • Females make a low, hoarse quack
Northern Pintail courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Does not nest and breed in the Bay region
  • Nests throughout the central continental United States, as well as in Canada and Alaska
  • Can live as long as 22 years in the wild

Other Facts:

  • Also known as sprigs
  • Gets its name from its long, pin-like tail
  • Has the largest breeding range of any duck in North America
  • 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:


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