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Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

Named for its long, pin-like tail, the pintail duck has the largest breeding range of any duck in North America.
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Named for its long, pin-like tail, the pintail duck has the largest breeding range of any duck in North America.

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.


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.


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, leaving in early spring to migrate northward for the summer.


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.


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


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


The 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:

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.

Other Facts:

  • 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:


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