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A photo of a Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), male
Northern Pintail, Male

Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

The Northern Pintail, Anas acuta, is a graceful duck with a cosmopolitan range, breeding across the northern reaches of Europe, Asia, and North America. This species is easily recognized by its elegant profile, marked by a long neck and a distinctive pointed tail from which it derives its common name. The male, or drake, is particularly striking during the breeding season with a chocolate-brown head and a white breast adorned by a white line extending up the neck. Females, or hens, exhibit a more subdued palette of brown feathers, blending seamlessly with the wetland habitats they frequent.

Identification Tips

The drake Northern Pintail is distinguished by its long central tail feathers, blue-grey bill, and grey legs and feet. In contrast, the hen's plumage is a muted brown, with a shorter pointed tail and a long grey bill. Both sexes share a sleek, elongated body and a swift, agile flight pattern, with the male showcasing a black-bordered white speculum and the female a dark brown speculum edged prominently in white.


The Northern Pintail is a bird of open wetlands, including grasslands, lakesides, and tundra. It is adaptable in winter, utilizing estuaries, marshes, and coastal lagoons. The species' preference for shallow waters makes it a common sight in these environments.


This migratory species breeds in the northern Palearctic and North America, wintering as far south as the equator. Its range extends to include passage and non-breeding areas, with vagrant sightings reported in various locations.


Outside of the breeding season, Northern Pintails are highly sociable, often forming large mixed flocks with other duck species. They exhibit a forward-leaning swimming posture and are known for their fast, slightly swept-back winged flight.

Song & Calls

The male Northern Pintail emits a soft, flute-like whistle, while the female produces a coarse quack and a low croak when flushed, reminiscent of the mallard.


Northern Pintails are among the earliest ducks to breed in the spring. They form pairs during migration and nest on the ground, well-hidden among vegetation. The female lays a clutch of cream-colored eggs, which she incubates alone. Ducklings are precocial and follow the hen to water shortly after hatching.

Diet and Feeding

The Northern Pintail is an opportunistic feeder, dabbling for plant food and invertebrates. It has a preference for seeds and aquatic plants but will also consume grain and other seeds in fields during the winter.

Conservation Status

Despite its wide range and large population, the Northern Pintail is not considered globally threatened. However, it faces challenges from habitat loss, hunting, and avian diseases. Conservation efforts are in place in some regions to address population declines and protect this elegant species.

Northern Pintail Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Northern Pintail Fun Facts

Did you know?
Northern Pintail's scientific name means Sharp Duck.

Northern Pintails on Birda


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