northern_pintail_duckNorthern Pintail Duck

Anas acuta


The Pintail is a long, slender duck. It has a long neck, a small head and long pointed tail feathers.  The male has a brown head with a gray body.  There are white lines on the sides of the head that extend down to the duck’s neck and chest.  The Pintail female has a tan head and neck with mottled tan and brown feathers on her back and body.  Both sexes have gray feet.


The Pintail is 20-30 inches in length with a wingspan of about 3 feet.  It weighs between 1 and 3 pounds.


  • One reason ducks are able to stay afloat in the water is because of air sacs inside their bodies that increase their buoyancy.
  • Ducks’ feathers trap air in between them, which is another adaptation that helps them to float.  Their feathers are also covered with a waterproof substance that keeps the ducks warm and dry.
  • Ducks’ webbed feet allow them to maneuver easily in the water.
  • Ducks are excellent fliers due to their streamlined bodies and powerful wings.  Ducks and other birds also have hollow bones that weigh much less than the solid bones of mammals.  This reduces their overall body weight and makes them light enough to fly.
  • Ducks do not have teeth, but they do have bumpy edges on their bills that help them to filter food out of the water.  Food is then swallowed and ground up in the gizzard, a part of the stomach that contains small rocks for breaking down food.


Pintails eat a variety of food items including aquatic plants, seeds, grass, small aquatic animals, and insects.  At Cosley Zoo, the ducks are fed a commercial waterfowl diet.


Female Pintails nest in the spring. They lay 6-12 olive-colored eggs in a nest that they build on the ground.  The nest is made of grass and is lined with down. The female incubates the eggs, which take about 3 weeks to hatch. Sometimes the male will stay to help care for the ducklings, but more often the female will do it alone. The ducklings begin to fly when they are a little more than a month old.

Shelter and Space Needs

Pintails live in marshes, wetlands, and pond areas in Canada and the northern United States. This species migrates to California or the Gulf of Mexico in the winter.

Life Expectancy

Uncertain for this breed. In general, ducks live an average of 2 years in the wild and can live over 10 years in captivity.

Relationship with Man

Pintails are popular with duck hunters, who spend a great deal of money on conservation through the purchase of hunting licenses.

Fun Facts

  • This duck has been nicknamed “The Greyhound of the Air” because its long narrow wings enable it to fly swiftly.
  • Female Pintails will protect their brood by flying at an intruder or by pretending to be injured and leading the predator away from the young.
  • Pintails are the most widely distributed duck species in the world. They range from Alaska throughout all of North America down to Cuba, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
  • Although the female Pintail quacks, the male makes a distinctive whistling noise.


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