Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Northern Pintail:
Sleek, Elegant & Graceful

Northern Pintail - Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico
© Weldon Lee

Sleek. Elegant. Graceful. Poised. Few words more fittingly describe the Northern Pintail.

While the female’s mottled brown markings are typical of most female ducks, the male with its dark brown head accentuated with a thin white line on either side and long pointed tail feathers is one of the most striking of all ducks.

Although the pintail is distributed throughout most of North America, higher population densities exist in the West.

Pintails have adapted to life on open prairies, where they are associated with lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are seldom found in densely wooded wetlands.

They are fast flyers, and with narrow, pointed wings they are extremely agile as they gracefully dart from one prairie pothole to the next. With their distinctive, short whistle they call out to other members of their clan for a point of reference. In winter, they’re frequently observed feeding in grain fields.

Breeding begins in late April, and often continues into July. Peak breeding activity occurs during May. Early nesting, combined with renesting following an initial nest failure, account for the extended breeding season.

The hen builds her nest by scraping a shallow depression in the earth and lining it with down. Although the usual nest location is among short grasses near the water’s edge, it’s not uncommon for an occasional nest to be located in a meadow some distance from water.

A typical clutch consists of six to nine cream-colored eggs.

Nest-building and incubation duties belong to the female. During the first part of this process the male usually stays nearby, not leaving until a few days after incubation begins. However, some males remain throughout the entire incubation period.

Within 23 days, nature’s miracle repeats itself as the newly hatched ducklings enter their new world.

Food consists of aquatic vegetation and plankton. To this is added an occasional snail, clam, or aquatic insect.

Normal feeding occurs as the pintails strain plants and plankton from the water’s surface through the comb-like edge of their bills.

The young pintails will make their first flights when they are between 36 and 57 days old.

Beginning in spring, and continuing into fall, northern pintails are a common sight on many lakes and waterways.

The largest numbers, however, are encountered during the spring and fall migrations. Since the fall migration is spread out over several months, higher concentrations are experienced during spring; their numbers peaking between late March and early April.

Good luck in locating and observing my favorite duck - the sleek and graceful Northern Pintail.

This image is available as a signed, limited edition photograph by special order. Go to my website, Wildlife Photography by Weldon Lee, for details on pricing and framing options.

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