Pintail

Anus acuta

51-66cm

Appearance

An elegant bird with an elongated appearance. It is slightly bigger than the Mallard, and has a long thin neck and a rounded head. Its tail is long, and its grey and black bill is also lengthy in comparison to the Mallard. The sexes are quite different in appearance; the male has a chocolate-brown head and nape with its white breast extending as a stripe up the side of its head. Its finely barred grey body has a black line along the side which is often obscured by long, cream-and-black, drooping feathers. A key feature is the two elongated black feathers that extend from its black and white tail, adding a tapering end to its appearance. When flying, the male's grey wings have a green speculum and a white trailing edge. The female's white trailing edge on her inner wing is her most obvious feature. She has a shorter tail than the male and is mottled brown, but a lighter colour than other female ducks. Her grey bill is slender, her head pale brown, and her flanks a darker shade. Juveniles look similar to the female, but while their back is darker and more heavily spotted, the complex feather markings are not yet apparent.

Habitat

During breeding season, Pintails prefer marshy waterside ground, but can inhabit estuaries or sheltered coasts in winter.

Character

The Pintail can be found in small flocks. When in flight, they may form high 'V' formations; sexes part ways and travel in separate flocks towards the end of summer.

Food

Pintails eat a mixed diet of vegetation and animals it finds in water. It up-ends and makes use of its long neck to seek beneath the water's surface. Diet includes pondweeds, docks, sedges and grasses. It's known to eat water beetles, fly larvae, snails, leeches and, from salt water, shrimps and marine snails.

Breeding

Nests on ground in grass or cover of other vegetation, usually within a couple of hundred metres of water. Females lay 7-9 eggs and she incubates them for 22-24 days - males usually depart during this period. Young are able to swim and feed independently soon after hatching and after approximately 40 days, they have the ability to fly.

Population

In May or June, male Pintails depart breeding sites and many fly to traditional moulting areas. After breeding, females migrate to moulting sites too. The southward migration begins around September; Pintails from Iceland, Scandinavia, the Baltic States and Russia spend winter in Britain and Ireland, while British breeding birds (less than 40 pairs) stay in the region. Over 29 000 birds spend winter in the UK and 1200 in Ireland (40-50% of the European population), though numbers are on the decline.

Observation Tips

These are discreet birds during breeding season, but they're otherwise quite easy to see in open flocks. If seen up-ending to feed, the striking stern colours and elongated tail assist with identification.

Voice

Quieter than other ducks, the Pintail has a range of calls similar to the Mallard's, though gentler. The male has a long 'greee' whistle and the female has a series of quite harsh, deep quacks.
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