Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Northern Pintail

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Anas acuta | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Northern Pintail | [FR] Canard pilet | [DE] Spiessente | [ES] Anade Rabudo | [NL] Pijlstaart


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Anas acuta NA, EU n


Anas is a genus of dabbling ducks. It includes mallards, wigeons, teals, pintails and shovelers in a number of subgenera. Some authorities prefer to elevate the subgenera to genus rank.[1] Indeed, as the moa-nalos are very close to this clade and may have evolved later than some of these lineages, it is rather the absence of a thorough review than lack of necessity that this genus is rather over-lumped. The phylogeny of this genus is one of the most confounded ones of all living birds. Research is hampered by the fact the radiation of the two major groups of Anas ? the teals and mallard groups ? took place in a very short time and fairly recently, roughly in the mid-late Pleistocene. Furthermore, hybridization may have long played a major role in Anas evolution, with within-subgenus hybrids regularly and between-subgenus hybrids not infrequently being fully fertile.[1] The relationships between species are much obscured by this fact, and mtDNA sequence data is of dubious value in resolving their relationships; on the other hand, nuclear DNA sequences evolve too slowly to resolve the phylogeny of the subgenus Anas for example. Some major clades can be discerned. For example, that the traditional subgenus Anas, the mallard group, forms a monophyletic (in the loose sense, i.e. non-holophyletic) group has never been seriously questioned by modern science and is as good as confirmed (but see below). On the other hand, the phylogeny of the teals is very confusing. For these reasons, the dabbling duck lineages more distantly related to mallard group (which includes the type species of Anas) than the wigeons should arguably be separated in their own genera. These would include the Baikal Teal, the Garganey, the spotted black-capped Punanetta group, and the shovelers and other blue-winged species. Whether the wigeons, which are very distinct in morphology and behavior, but much less so in mtDNA cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequences, should also be considered a distinct genus Mareca (including the Gadwall and Falcated Duck) is essentially the one remaining point of dispute as regards the question which taxa should remain in this genus and which ones should not.

Physical charateristics

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.

Listen to the sound of Northern Pintail

[audio: Pintail.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 79 cm wingspan 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.: 24 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 7  
      eggs max.: 10  


North America, Eurasia : North


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


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.

Feeding habits

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.

Video Northern Pintail


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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.
Northern Pintail status Least Concern


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.

Distribution map

Northern Pintail distribution range map


Title Characterization of Northern pintail ( Anas acuta) ejaculate and the effect of sperm preservation on fertility
Author(s): L. M. Penfold, V. Harnal, W. Lynch, D. Bird, S. R. Derrickson and D. E. Wildt
Abstract: Northern pintail duck semen and sperm traits were ..[more]..
Source: Reproduction(2001) 121, 267-275

download full text (pdf)

Title Estimation of carcass fat and protein in northern pintails ( Anas acuta) during spring migration
Author(s): Pascale Dombrowski, Jean-Claude Bourgeois, Richard Couture, and Christian Linard
Abstract: Foraging in stopover areas influences nutritional ..[more]..
Source: Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 39(3), 2003, pp. 620-626

download full text (pdf)

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