Pintail Duck Information, Photos, and Facts

The Northern Pintail Duck is nicknamed “the Greyhound of the Air” due to their swift & elegant appearance in flight.

The Pintail Duck, or Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), is a medium to large sized migratory duck that gets its name from the long tail feathers found on the male of the species, which may measure up to 1/4 of the Pintail Drake's overall length. American Expedition is proud to present interesting information, facts, habitat information, and hunting tips for the Northern Pintail Duck.

Northern pintail duck facts, photos, information, habitat, and hunting tips from American Expedition.

Pintail Duck Information

Male northern pintail ducks, known as drakes, are unmistakable due to their long tails, which have central feathers that may be as long as 4 inches. Drakes also have beautiful breeding plumage, with chocolate brown heads and white stripes draping each side of their neck extending into a white patch on their breast. Their backs and sides are gray, with black stripes on their wings and shoulders. Their bills and legs are bluish gray in color. Female pintails, or hens, have a brownish color and a uniformly gray head, and their tail feathers are significantly shorter. Non-breeding plumage for the drake resembles the hen.

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Pintail ducks are not very vocal most of the time, but when they are the females vocalization is a hoarse “quack”, while the males is a whistle-like “kwee” sound.

Pintail Duck Facts

  • Adult Northern Pintail Ducks weight between 1 and 3 pounds on average, with males larger than females.
  • Northern Pintail Drakes measure 20-30 inches in length, while Northern Pintail hens measure 20-25 inches.
  • Northern Pintail ducks have a wingspan of 30-38 inches.
  • Northern Pintails are capable of flying at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.
  • Northern Pintail ducks are usually among the first birds to begin migrating in the fall and spring.
  • Northern Pintail duck populations have been in decline since the 1950's, but they are still considered 'of least concern'. Their worldwide population is estimated at between 5 and 5.5 million birds.
  • In 1997, an outbreak of avian botulism killed an estimated 1.5 million water birds, the majority of which were Northern Pintail Ducks.
  • Northern Pintails are enduring fliers and are known to make trans-Atlantic flights, as birds tagged on the east coast of North America have been found days later in Europe.
  • The oldest recorded age of a Pintail Duck was 27 years, 5 months.
  • Male vocalization sounds like a whistled “kwee.”
  • Pintail ducks breed between April and June.
  • Pintail ducks choose new mates every year.
  • Northern Pintail drakes attract hens with courtship displays like stretching out their neck that showcase their distinct plumage.
  • During courtship, female Northern Pintails will preen their desired drakes.
  • Pintail ducks are ready for breeding at one year of age.
  • After mating, the hen will lay between 5-10 eggs that are pale green in color. If the nest is destroyed before the end of breeding season, she may lay a second clutch of eggs.
  • The Northern Pintail hen incubates the eggs for approximately 22-24 days.
  • After hatching, the hen will lead her ducklings to the water, where they feed on dead insects until they are fledged 45 to 47 days after hatching.
  • Nicknames for pintail ducks include 'sprig', 'spike', and 'spiketail'.
  • During migration, they fly in a V- formation.

Pintail Duck Habitat

The Northern Pintail has a wider range than any other duck - they have been found on every continent except Antarctica, and are known to winter and breed on all continents except for Australia and Antarctica. They can be found throughout North America, and have breeding grounds in Alaska, Canada, the west coast, and the central and northern portions of the United States.

Northern Pintails can be found feeding in wetland areas like marshes, lagoons, ocean coastlines, rivers, lakes, and sheltered estuaries. They prefer to breed in open wetland areas that have tall grass to conceal their nests, like the shores of lakes and tundra. They will usually build their nest a short distance from the water.

What Do Pintail Ducks Eat? 

Northern Pintail ducks are dabbling ducks, primarily feeding on aquatic plants, seeds grasses, and pond weeds during the evening and at night. They are also known to eat frogs, mollusks, insects, crustaceans, and small fish. The long neck of the Pintail allows it to dabble for food that may be up to 1 foot under water, which is beyond the range of several other dabbling ducks, like the Mallard. 

Pintail Duck Hunting Tips

  • Northern Pintails are popular with duck hunters because of the degree of difficulty to bag one. They are very quick flyers, so gauge your shot accordingly.
  • Don’t forget a shotgun and shells!
  • Setting up decoys on the hunting ground is the key to attracting ducks your way.
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  • Use duck calls to lure the birds in. It is important to practice calling because ducks possess outstanding auditory perception. If the sounds you are making do not match what the duck actually sounds like, they will change direction and not land on your water.
  • Some hunters have trained dogs, usually labs, to fetch the ducks after shooting them. Dogs are a great asset because most of the time the ducks will fall into the water, where you would then have to either use a boat or wade in to get them. It is important to train the dog to be well behaved while in the duck blind. An antsy or noisy dog will result in an unsuccessful hunt.
  • Collect the dates of Pintail Duck season. Hunting off-season is illegal and can result in a fine, the suspension or loss of equipment, or even jail time.
  • Check your state laws to find what permits you need to have in order to hunt ducks. Most states require a small game permit, a state migratory bird permit, and a federal bird hunting stamp. Along with these, you must also have a hunting license. It is illegal to hunt without these.
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Northern Pintail duck on clear water.

Pintail ducks are dabblers, which means they usually feed on plant material and insects that can be found close to the water's surface.

Northern Pintail duck in flight

Pintail ducks are swift flyers, flying at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.

Group of Pintails dabbling

Pintails primarily feed on grasses, aquatic plants, and plant seeds, but also eat invertebrates, crustaceans, insects, frogs, and small fish.

Pintail duck in the water.

Northern Pintail ducks have the widest range of any duck on the planet.