Northern Pintail Duck

Northern Pintail Ducks, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Pintail Ducks, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo Copyright By Pauline Greenhalgh

The Northern Pintail Duck is most common in the pacific northwest during the fall migration. Huge flocks fly south over the coast from August through October.

The male northern pintail duck when courting a female performs incredible aerial acrobatics. Once back on the ground, he courts her by whistling continuously at her. He will swim close to her, sticking his tail straight up and lowering his head.

You can’t mistake the male pintail in his breeding plumage for any other duck, with his beautiful head pattern and his long, slender neck. This duck has a  brown head, a white stripe on the back of his neck and chest, and a grayish back and sides. His tail has black pointed feathers, these tail feathers can be up to 10 cm longer than the females. He has long black feathers on his back. The lower part of his wing has a green stripe that is bordered by light brown on the top and black and white on the bottom, his feet are gray. His bill is black with a gray stripe. But In the nonbreeding plumage, the male Pintail is a dull brown color with pale stripes on his head and neck and his tail is shorter and broader, rather drab to see.

The female is like a female mallard and has a brownish head and a mottled body. She has a white edging to her wings that is visible in flight and long dark feathers in her tail, she is thinner than a hen mallard.

Northern Pintail Ducks are common ducks found over all of North America. In the west they breed from Alaska to California, they migrate to the Pacific coast in the winter.

The northern pintail duck is a dabbling duck and tips its rear end up to feed on submerged plants, seeds, and invertebrates. It can be found feeding in the evening and at night. The male’s voice is a whistle, while the female sounds like a mallard.

Every year at the breeding grounds, they pair up. The female chooses her mate by how good-looking he is. The newly formed pair will build their nest by freshwater lakes and marshes by forming a shallow bowl made with grasses and lined with down. The nest is usually a fair way from the water. The female will lay up to 9 eggs and is the one that does the incubating, the male leaves to molt as she begins to incubate her eggs. After the chicks hatch, she leads them to the water, where they feed on insects. She is a very protective mother and will fly directly at a predator or pretend to be injured and lead the predator away from her chicks. The chicks fledge in about 45 days, but stay with the female until after she molts.

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