Northern pintails are long, slender ducks with long, narrow wings, earning them the nickname "greyhound of the air." Pintails are named for their elongated central tail feathers, which constitute one-fourth of the drake's body length. Male
northern pintails have a chocolate-brown head with a white stripe on each side of the neck extending up from the white breast and belly. The back is blackish-gray and the rump has a white patch on each side. Two of the long central tail feathers are black while the others are gray margined by white. In flight, an iridescent greenish-black speculum is displayed. The bill is blue-gray with a black stripe along the center to the tip, and the legs and feet are slate-gray. The male has a mellow whistled "kwee" or "kwee-hee." Female
northern pintails have a dark-brown upper body with a buff or gray head and lower body. The speculum is a dull brown or bronze. The bill is blue-gray blotched with black, and the legs and feet are slate-gray. Female vocalization is a hoarse, muffled "quack."
Breeding: Northern pintails have a circumpolar breeding pattern. In North America, they breed from Alaska, the central Canadian Arctic and western Greenland south to the western and central United States. Northern pintails nest in open areas near seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands located in prairie and tundra habitats. Females typically nest on the ground in low or sparse vegetation, often far from water, and lay an average of 8 eggs.
Migrating and Wintering: Northern pintails are among the first ducks to migrate south in the fall and north in the spring. Over half of the pintail population in North America migrates through California. The majority of these birds winter in the Central Valley of California, but some continue south to the west coast of Mexico. Pintails using the Central Flyway winter in the Texas Panhandle and on the Gulf Coast of Texas and western Louisiana. The majority of pintails using the Mississippi Flyway winter in Louisiana, with smaller numbers wintering in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Along coastal wintering grounds, pintails concentrate on shallow fresh or brackish estuaries adjacent to agricultural areas. Northern pintails are common winter visitors to Central America, the Caribbean and northern Colombia (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).
Population: Pintails once were one of the most abundant ducks in North America but have suffered a disturbing decline since the 1950s. In 2009, the breeding population was estimated at 3.2 million birds, substantially below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan objective of 5.5 million. More than any other North American waterfowl species, the northern pintail population has suffered from persistent drought and loss of grassland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region.
Food habits: Pintails dabble and up-end to feed on the seeds and nutlets of moist-soil and aquatic plants. They also make extensive use of waste grain.