Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

Length: 20 to 26 inches Wingspan: 28 to 36 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Brown head with white stripe near back (male), gray body, long tail

Northern Pintail - Anas acutaThe Northern Pintail is one of the most widespread and common ducks in the world, and is found in Europe and Asia as well as North America. The are one of the larger duck species found in South Dakota, and with the long tail of the males, the very long neck, and the elegant plumage, they are distinctive if seen well. One of the most wary waterfowl species, Northern Pintails can be very difficult to approach in all seasons, taking flight at the first indication of danger.


Marshland and shallow lakes or ponds with emergent wetland vegetation.  Nests are in dense vegetation growth, often very near water but sometimes up to half a mile away from the nearest water source. 


A variety of items, but mostly plant material and insects.  The winter diet is largely plant material, especially seeds, roots, and waste grain.  Insects and the occasional mollusk, crustacean, or small fish become a significant part of the diet in the summer.


Forages by dipping its head below the surface in shallow water, finding the majority of its food in the mud bottom beneath the water.  Northern Pintails will also often forage on land, waddling along the ground in search of food items.


April through June in South Dakota. The nest of a Northern Pintail is a scrape on the ground, lined initially with grasses and other vegetation, but typically lined with down. The nest is placed in vegetated cover, which may be grasslands, wetlands, or even cropland, sometimes relatively far from water (further than most other dabbling duck species). The female lays between 3 and 12 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 24 days.


Males give a subdued whistling call, often given while in flight. Females give a wavering quacking call, particularly if disturbed.


Summers through the northern half of the U.S., Canada, and Alaska.  Winters throughout much of the southern half of the U.S., and U.S. and Canadian coastlines. On rare occasions a straggler may attempt to overwinter in South Dakota.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Pintail sightings

Similar Species:

The male is generally quite distinctive, while the female can look similar to many dabbling ducks.  The best clue to identify females is sometimes to look at their partner male birds, given how dabbling duck species are often found as "couples". Otherwise, here are some identification clues:

Blue-winged Teal 2 - Spatula discors Gadwall - Mareca strepera Mallard 18 - Anas platyrhynchos Green-winged Teal 3 - Anas crecca
Blue-winged Teal Gadwall Mallard Green-winged Teal

Conservation Status:

Northern Pintails have an extremely large geographic range, found not only in North America but in Europe and Asia as well. They are still relatively common in some parts of that range. However, surveys show they have declined significantly in many areas of North America since the 1950s.  With the large overall population size and geographic range, however, the IUCN still considers the Northern Pintail to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 14th, 2010 - Kingsbury County, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Pintail photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Northern Pintail
South Dakota Status: Common migrant and summer resident throughout the state.  Rare in winter.

Additional Northern Pintail Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Northern Pintail 1 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 2 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 3 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 4 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 5 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 6 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 7 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 8 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 9 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 10 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 11 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 12 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 13 - Anas acutaNorthern Pintail 14 - Anas acuta