The Pintail

PINTAIL ( Anas acuta ) 25 - 29"

Slender, white-breasted, with long needle-pointed tail. White point runs from neck to side of brown head.
The pintail is our third most popular waterfowl, and can be seen at all the Utah bird refuges at some time of the year. The species is one of the group termed "river" or "puddle" ducks because of the manner of feeding with head under water, tail in air, and feet kicking to hold position. While they breed most commonly in western North America, they have the widest breeding range of all our ducks, nesting in northern Europe, Asia, Canada, Alaska, and from California eastward to the prairies of the Dakotas. Their wintering grounds are along all coasts (except in New England), in Hawaii, South America, Africa and India. As lakes and waterways become free of ice, they move northward, mating on the way and are among the earliest of the ducks to start brooding.
"Slim" is a good descriptive word for the pintail, with its long thin neck, slender body, and thin sharp pointed tail, especially conspicuous in the male when swimming in water. The needle-like tail and snowy white breast makes the male readily identified. The females are buff and mottled brown, and are often confused with female mallards. (Pintails and mallards often hybridize.)
Most ducks nest in wet places where the newly hatched young can enter the water quickly, but the pintail nest site is dry and may be on an island, or inland from a waterway. Lined with straw and down, the nest hollow holds six to twelve greenish or buffy eggs. The female lays all her eggs, then broods them for 22 or 23 days. Her mate remains nearby until the young emerge, then withdraws to moult. The whole clutch hatches within a few hours. The fuzzy young stay in the nest for a day or so, until they are well dried. Then they toddle in a group after their mother to the nearest water, where she alone defends them with courage. By July the young birds are on the wing.
The food of the pintail consists mostly of vegetation -- bulblets, roots, and seeds of water plants such as pondweed, sedges, duckweed, algae; and grains. About one eighth of the diet is insects, minnows, worms, tadpoles and other animal life found in and near water.
The pintail is common in Utah, and a resident in most of the refuges. But the peak of the population is during the fall migration. As many as 180,000 have rested and fed during the period from August through December at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge west of Brigham City.
Pintails will always be numerous on the American continent under the current protective laws. In India this is not the case yet. There are records of 600 to 700 birds shot by a single gun in one day while the ducks migrate through the Himalayan passes. The National Wildlife Refuge at Sacramento, California attracts more than a million birds, and their raiding of the rice fields creates a problem. Some cross the Pacific to Hawaii, and in 1942 one weary flock came down on Palmyra Island, more than a thousand miles further south. One of these had been banded 82 days earlier in Utah, where it had been cured of botulism.
The greatest threat to the pintails and other ducks is the steady loss of preferred habitat -- grain fields, marshes, ponds, lakes and bays. Roger Tory Peterson states it this way: "Millions of acres of water have already been hurried off the land; hurried to the sea before their time; before they have been of enough use to plants, beasts, birds or man. This is one of the main reasons waterfowl are so much less abundant today than they were a generation or two ago. Breeding grounds have been greatly reduced. The few ducks that do try to nest in ditched marshes have a hard time. Food is meager, and the steep-sided ditches are a trap for the young. Fires that sweep the dry marshes burn the eggs and fledglings. Where the water has become too low, waterfowl sometimes fall prey to diseases, like duck sickness. Then too, hunters have been able to get to the few remaining good spots much more easily than they could years ago. It is not an encouraging picture for the ducks. The Federal government has created a large number of refuges, but this only solves part of the problem."
-- by Marie L. Atkinson

National Geographic -- Surface-Feed Ducks
S. Dillon Ripley

Field Guide to Western Birds
Roger Tory Peterson

Key to North American Waterfowl
Wylie, Furlong and Schroeder

Brochure, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Utah Nature Study Society
November 1973

Adapted for
by Sandra Bray

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