11 Interesting Facts about the Northern Pintail

Until I bought my camera and begun taking photographs, I had no idea that this bird even existed. Imagine my surprise when I came upon them in the marsh during the spring migration. Everything about the male looks sleek and elegant. I love photographing this bird.  No matter how many shots you take, you know that the next one could be something special simply due to their appearance

There is a lot to learn about the Northern Pintail. Here is some of the information that I have gathered so far.

  • The Northern Pintail, an elegant duck with its trim form and swift flight, has been dubbed ‘the greyhound of the air’.
  • The Northern Pintail’s breeding habitat is open unwooded wetlands, such as wet grassland, lakesides or tundra. 

    Nothern Pintails

    Nothern Pintails

  • The Pintail feeds by dabbling and upending in shallow water for plant food. Its long neck enables it to take food items from the bottom of water bodies which are beyond the reach of other dabbling ducks like the Mallard.
  • The male Pintail ‘s call is a soft proop-proop whistle, similar to that of the Common Teal, whereas the female has a Mallard-like descending quack, and a low croak when flushed.
  • The male Northern Pintail mates with the female by swimming close to her with his head lowered and tail raised, continually whistling. If there is a group of males, they will chase the female in flight until only one drake is left. The female prepares for copulation, which takes place in the water, by lowering her body; the male then bobs his head up and down and mounts the female, taking the feathers on the back of her head in his mouth. After mating, he raises his head and back and whistles.

Northern Pintails Taking to Flight

Northern Pintails Taking to Flight

  • Breeding for the Northern Pintail takes place between April and June. The nest is constructed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation in a dry location, often some distance from water. It is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with plant material and down.
  • The female Pintail lays seven to nine cream-coloured eggs at the rate of one per day. If predators destroy the first clutch, the female can produce a replacement clutch as late as the end of July.
  • The Northern Pintail hen alone incubates the eggs for 22 to 24 days before they hatch. Approximately three-quarters of the chicks live long enough to fledge, but not more than half of those survive long enough to reproduce. 

    Male Nothern Pintail in Flight

    Male Nothern Pintail in Flight

  • The maximum recorded age of a Northern Pintail is 27 years and 5 months for a Dutch bird.
  • The Northern Pintail is highly gregarious when not breeding, forming large mixed flocks with other species of duck.
  • Pintails in North America have been badly affected by avian diseases, with the breeding population falling from more than 10 million in 1957 to 3.5 million by 1964. Although the species has recovered from that low point, the breeding population in 1999 was 30% below the long-term average, despite years of major efforts focused on restoring the species. In 1997, an estimated 1.5 million water birds, the majority being Northern Pintails, died from avian botulism during two outbreaks in Canada and Utah.

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