What is a Northern Pintail?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The northern pintail is a species of duck with a fairly wide habitat range, mostly focused in parts of the United States and Canada. The birds have a long slender neck, and the two sexes have noticeably different physical characteristics. Males have a brownish colored head with a white colored chest, and a grayish body. Females have a mottled coloring on the body with a tan colored head. In terms of size, the northern pintail ranges from 21 to 29 inches (53 to 74 cm) long, and the males are significantly larger than the females.

During the winter, the northern pintail can be found from Alaska to Canada and the great plains of the United States as well as parts of Asia and Europe. In the fall, the birds migrate southward, inhabiting areas closer to the equator. Migration south typically begins around the month of August, and the birds generally return in the early spring.

In terms of food, the northern pintail is an omnivorous species. They generally take in food using a technique called dabbling. This involves tipping their head into the water until their tail is pointed upward, and scooping whatever they can find. They often eat aquatic plant-life and various species of invertebrates. Their diet varies slightly from summer to winter based on the items available, and the younger birds are thought to eat more invertebrates than the adults because they need more protein to help them grow.

The northern pintail has a courtship ritual involving males chasing females in flight. Females build the nests, which are made by digging a shallow hole in the ground and lining it with various soft materials, including vegetation and down. A typical clutch is about eight eggs, and incubation takes about 22 days with the female doing all the work. Unlike many other birds, the northern pintail does not have a long-term pair bond, and the male doesn't have any major involvement with the raising of the chicks.

Once the chicks are born they can immediately leave the nest, but they are still very dependent on their mother. They aren’t able to fly for about 45 days, and even after that time, they often continue to stay close to their mother until her molting is finished. From the very beginning, the chicks go to the water and forage for insects. The mothers are known to be very protective of the chicks, but their mortality rate is still considered fairly high.

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