Visiting the Estuary now, the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Northern Pintail
Feb 12, 2020 12:31PM
By Paul Spear
Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the “Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the “Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)”.
The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.
“Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the “Northern Pintail”
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the northern pintail (Anas acuta), a large dabbling duck. The male's long central tail feathers give rise to the species' English and scientific names. Both sexes have blue-grey bills and grey legs and feet. The drake is more striking, having a thin white stripe running from the back of its chocolate-colored head down its neck to its mostly white undercarriage. The drake also has attractive grey, brown, and black patterning on its back and sides. The hen's plumage is more subtle and subdued, with drab brown feathers similar to those of other femaledabbling ducks. Hens make a coarse quack and the drakes a flute-like whistle.
Pintails are widespread across North America, Europe, and Asia, the Northern Pintail are one of the most numerous duck species in the world (although outnumbered by the omnipresent Mallard). Slim and long-necked, it has an elegant appearance both on the water and in flight. Pintails are wary at all seasons, and become very secretive during the flightless stage of their molt in late summer when they are vulnerable to attack.
Pintails forage in shallow water by up-ending with tail up and head down, or by submerging
their head and neck while swimming, finding most food in underwater mud. They also forage by walking on land, eating mostly seeds and insects. Their diet is mostly plant material in fall and winter, especially seeds of grasses, sedges, pondweeds, and others, and waste grain in fields. In spring and summer they also feed on roots and new growth. They eat more animal matter in summer, eating mainly insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and sometimes tadpoles, small fish. Young ducklings eat mostly insects.
Females lay 7-10, sometimes 6-12 pale olive eggs. Incubation is by the female only, with gestation taking between 21-25 days. The female leads the young from nest within a few hours after they hatch. Young feed themselves, and are capable of flight at 38-52 days after hatching. In far northern climates, where continuous daylight allows for feeding at all hours, young may develop faster.
Mating pair formation begins on their winter range and continues during spring migration, with some birds perhaps not paired until after arrival on breeding grounds. Several males often court one female, leading to pursuit flights.
Nest sites are on dry ground among short vegetation, usually near water but can be up to 1/2
mile away, often more exposed than nests of other ducks. Nests (built by females) are a shallow depression lined with grasses, twigs, leaves, with the addition of down.
Pintail males are one of the most attractive ducks, and one of my favorites. I photographed these during a regularly scheduled bird walk at the Tijuana Estuary. Check their web site at http://trnerr.org/ for a list of bird walks and other free events there, and remember to enjoy all the Imperial Beach has to offer.
If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:
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Paul Spear, Publisher, and Editor of Dig Imperial Beach