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northern pintail

Anas acuta

What do they look like?

The adult male Northern Pintail is between 23 to 30 inches (58.5 to 76 centimeters) in length and weighs 1 to 3 pounds (454 to 1362 Grams). Adult females measure 20 to 25 inches (51 to 63.5 centimeters) and weighs 1 to 2.5 pounds (454 to 1135 g). Males have a dark brown head and white breast with a white streak extending up the side of its head. From their back extending down and around their bellies, they have black and white speckled feathers with a yellow patch of feathers just above and behind their feet. Males also have a long, thin tail feather that can measure as much as 10 centimeters (4 inches) long. This feather narrows down to a sharp point and is where they get their name. The female has more of a drab, gray color to her feathers to help camouflage her as she sits on her nest, and her pin tail feather is only about one-quarter the length of the males.

These ducks have bluish-gray bills and they have longer necks than most other dabbling ducks, which makes them superb at feeding in deeper water.

Immature pintails measure from 53 to 68.5 centimeters (21 to 27 inches) and weigh 1 to 3 pounds (454 to 1362 g). Their feathers have more of a buff color to them; their bills are dark; and their heads range in color from dark brown to tan, while their bellies are speckled white and brown. Their tail feathers are dark, with cream colored edges and their feet are grayish green.

(Gooders, Boyer 1986; Soothill, Whitehead 1988; Bellrose 1980)

  • Range mass
    454 to 1362 g
    16.00 to 48.00 oz
  • Range wingspan
    236 to 282 mm
    9.29 to 11.10 in

Where do they live?

Northern Pintail, also called sprig, are found throughout the world. During the summer they are found mainly in the Northern Hemisphere as far south as Poland and Mongolia in Eurasia and California in North America. In the winter, they migrate to the Southern Hemisphere, including parts of Africa and all of Mexico. Some Pintail even fly all the way to Hawaii to spend the winter.

(Gooders, Boyer 1986)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Pintail are found in marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, and grain fields, such as rice, oats, wheat, and barley.

(Palmer 1976)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

How do they reproduce?

During courtship, the male, all the while whistling, will swim close to the female with his head down and tail up to impress the hen. If there is a group of males all courting the same female, the males will chase the female in flight. The males will lose track of her one by one, until only one male is left, and to his victory comes the opportunity to leave his legacy. Copulation takes place in the water and the female gets ready by laying her body close to the ground. The male then starts bobbing his head up and down. He then mounts the female and takes the feathers on the back of her head in his mouth. After he finishes, he lifts his head and back up and whistles. (Gooders & Boyer 1986; Soothill & Whitehead 1988; Palmer 1976)

Mating season is in early May, and if predators destroy the hen’s eggs, she can replace the clutch as late as the end of July, a process called double clutching. Pintail become sexually mature at 1 year old. (Soothill, Whitehead 1988; Palmer 1976)

A Northern Pintail hen lays 7 to 9 cream colored eggs in May usually laying one egg per day, and the hen alone will incubate them for 22 to 24 days. After the chicks hatch, the hen will lead them to the nearest body of water where they will search for dead insects on the surface of the water. The chicks will attain flight in 46 to 47 days after hatching and the family will stay together until the hen re-grows the feathers needed to fly and she leaves her chicks.

(Soothill, Whitehead 1996; Gooders, Boyer 1986; Bellrose 1980)

  • Breeding season
    Spring and summer
  • Range eggs per season
    7 to 9
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 24 days
  • Range fledging age
    46 to 57 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    240 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    240 days

How long do they live?

Around three-quarters of hatchlings live long enough to fledge, and not more than half of the remaining birds live to produce young of their own.

(Palmer 1976; Gooders, Boyer 1986)

How do they behave?

Pintail submerge their head and upper half of their body, while its tail is left above the surface of the water as it feeds on snails, water bugs and roots of aquatic plants. This process is called up ending. Pintail will associate with many different species of waterfowl.

Pintail will migrate astounding distances during winter to warmer climates in a very short period of time. A bird that was caught and banded in Labrador, Canada was harvested by a hunter in England nine days later.

(Gooders & Boyer 1986; Soothill & Whitehead 1988; Palmer 1976)

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

Pintail feed on grain fields, including rice, wheat, barley, and oats. They also feed on foods that naturally occur, such alkali and hardstem bulrush seeds, sago pondweeds, insects, cladocera, and widgeon grass.

(Bellrose 1980)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

People are the main predators of adult pintails, but they are also preyed upon by bobcats and coyotes. To avoid predation they take flight.

Farmers, during the process of working in their fields, destroy nests. Crows, magpies, gulls, skunks, ground squirrels, coyotes, foxes, badgers, and raccoons also destroy nests and eat the eggs.

(Bellrose 1980)

Do they cause problems?

Like other waterfowl species, Pintail damage grain crops and cost farmers a considerable amount of money every year.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Northern Pintail are one of the most sought after ducks by duck hunters throughout their habitat. During duck season, hunters spend lots of money on hunting licenses, sporting goods and travel arrangements to towns that live near the migration flyways, and add a considerable amount of revenue to towns’ economy.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

The Northern Pintail is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, although there is a general hunting season for the bird throughout the United States.


Jerry Robinson (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.


Bellrose, F. 1980. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Bent, A. 1962. Life Stories of North American Wild Fowl. New York: Dover Publications, Inc..

Gooders, J., T. Boyer. 1986. Ducks of North America and the Nothern Hemisphere. New York: Facts on File, Inc.

Palmer, R. 1976. Handbook of North American Birds Volume 2. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Soothill, E., P. Whitehead. 1988. WildFowl of the World. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc..

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Robinson, J. 2002. "Anas acuta" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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