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Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

[order] Anseriformes | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Anas acuta | [UK] Northern Pintail | [FR] Canard pilet | [DE] Spießente | [ES] Ánade Rabudo | [IT] Codone comune | [NL] Pijlstaart


spanwidth min.: 79 cm

spanwidth max.: 87 cm

size min.: 51 cm

size max.: 62 cm


incubation min.: 22 days

incubation max.: 24 days

fledging min.: 40 days

fledging max.: 45 days

broods 1

eggs min.: 7

eggs max.: 10



Physical characteristics


Slightly bigger than a mallard, these long-necked and small-headed ducks fly with a curved back pointed wings and a tapering tail, making this the best way to distinguish them from other ducks. The drake Pintail is perhaps the most handsome of our ducks, the very epitome of grace and elegance. His most distinctive identification feature is the wavy white stripe extending up the side of his otherwise brown neck, but birds with their necks hidden can still be told by their white chests, grey bodies, black and yellow undertails and of course, the long spiky tails. The female Pintail lacks the colourful plumage and the tail spike but are still unmistakably elegant, with slender, almost swan-like necks, small plain heads and long slim grey bills. In flight the Pintail looks distinctively slender thanks mainly to their long necks and long pointed tails. In both male and female, it is the white trailing edge to the speculum which is most conspicuous.

Northern Pintails are wary, especially during their flightless stage in late summer, when they are highly secretive. They will forage on land, but find most of their food by dabbling in shallow, muddy water.




Small lakes, rivers and shallow freshwater marshes, with dense vegetaion in open country. In winter on coastal lagoons of brackish waters.


Other details


Anas acuta is a widespread breeder in much of northern and parts of central Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (>320,000 pairs), but underwent a large decline between 1970-1990. Although it was stable or increased across much of its European range during 1990-2000, the stronghold population in Russia continued to decline, and the species underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall.

This duck is breeding in northern Eurasia and North America. For practical reasons its populations of the European Union can be subdivided in two distinct sub-populations, separated by their wintering quarters. The first, totalling about 60000 individuals, is wintering in the Atlantic regions from Denmark to the British Isles and Aquitaine. The second population is estimated at 1200000 individuals. It winters around the Mediterranean and in West Africa. These two populations are not strictly separated and many birds are shifting from one to the other. Nevertheless this species is declining in western Europe, fluctuating in Central Europe and the Mediterranean.

Widespread and common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, the Northern Pintail is probably one of the most numerous species of duck worldwide. Numbers in North America vary a great deal from year to year, although some surveys have recorded significant, long-term declines since the 1960s. Predators and farming operations destroy many thousands of Northern Pintail nests each year. Farming has also affected nesting habitat. Pintails appear to be responding to new conservation practices, however, including habitat restoration and tighter restrictions on hunting, and numbers seem to be increasing. If these practices are maintained, Northern Pintails should be able to maintain a healthy population in North America.




Aquatic plants and crop vegetative, leaves, stems, roots and seeds. Many terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, amphibians and some small fish in spring and summer. Feeds by dabbling, upending and head-dipping in shallow water. Sometimes grazes on dry land.




This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 6,100,000-7,500,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]




Pairing begins on the wintering grounds and continues through spring migration. Northern Pintails are among the earliest nesters, and arrive on the breeding grounds as soon as they are free of ice (egg laying from november-march) in single pairs or loose groups. The nest is located on dry ground in short vegetation. It is usually near water, but may be up to half a mile away from the nearest body of water. Pintail nests are often more exposed than other ducks' nests. The nest is a shallow depression, built by the female and made of grass, twigs, or leaves, lined with down. Incubation of the 6 to 10 eggs lasts from 21 to 25 days and is done by the female alone. The pair bond dissolves shortly after the female begins incubation, when the males gather in flocks to molt. Within a few hours of hatching, the young follow the female from the nest site. They can feed themselves, but the female continues to tend them until they fledge at 38 to 52 days. In the far north where continuous daylight allows for round-the-clock feeding, the young develop faster. Sexual maturity is reached after one year.




Highly migratory. Breeders from Iceland winter mainly Britain and Ireland. Breeding populations of north Russia east to north-west Siberia, Fenno-Scandia, and Baltic migrate south-west to winter in the Netherlands and British Isles, movement from former to latter in hard weather. Vast population breeding from Belarus and Russia east to West Siberia winter in Mediterranean and Black Sea areas, and probably West Africa. Major movements away from moult areas and breeding grounds mid-August to early September. Early passage through Europe in August, peak movements mid-September to November, males preceding females due to earlier moult. Further movements under weather influence at any time during winter. Departures from West Africa begin February, from west Europe late February or March; reach tundras late May. Major flyways tend to follow coasts, normally relatively small numbers inland central Europe.


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Taken on November 12, 2016