Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Brenda Breding

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the northern pintail.
The migratory northern pintail (anas acuta) ranges from North America to Eurasia. With in-flight speeds of 65 mph, pintails are among the first to migrate in spring and fall. Their name is acquired from the male’s tail feathers. It’s nicknamed “The Greyhound of the Air” due to the elegant, swift flight in V-formation. Other names are spike and sprig.
Depending on sex, pintails weigh from 1-3 pounds and are 20-30 inches long with wingspans of 30-38 inches. Markings vary between sexes. Males display a chocolate head, slender brown neck, a white line from the head through the neck, white breast, long black tail feathers and lighter brown back and wings. In flight, a green speculum (inner wing feathers) is evident.
Females flash a bronzy speculum. Hens are dull, lack the white stripe and have brown/white mottling. Both sexes have gray bills, legs and feet.
Sexual maturity is at one year, and they breed from April to June in wetlands, wet meadows and grasslands. While courting, the female preens the drake and he stretches his neck, tips his bill, gives a whistle and preens his wings, displaying his green speculum. Both greet with a lift of the chin and a chase.
Nesting occurs along wetlands, in fields and in tall grass for protection. The female scrapes the ground close to water, forms a shallow bowl, adds grass and down to the depression, and then lays three to 12 greenish eggs. Incubation period is 22-24 days.
Pintails filter insects and seeds with their bills and feed on grains, aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms, and snails in fields and wetlands. Ducklings feed on dead insects until fledged in 45-47 days.
Loss of wetland habitats, destruction of nests from agriculture practices and cultivation of grasslands affect population numbers, which have declined 70 percent in 50 years. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan works with farmers on restoring wetlands through habitat improvement.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit and