Slender dabbling duck 25” to 30” long (females somewhat smaller) with an average wingspan of 35”. Drakes have a brown head, a swanlike neck with white plumage that extends up well behind the eye, and a flecked gray upper body with greatly elongated black feathers in the center of the tail. The underbelly is white and the wing speculum is a lustrous chocolate brown with green overtones and a white border along the rear. Hens are also slender with a long neck. They have mottled brown plumage, a long, pointed tail and a brown speculum with a white border. Both sexes have gray feet.
The northern pintail passes through the Chesapeake region in spring and fall while traveling to and from its breeding grounds in Alaska, Labrador, the upper Northeastern U.S. and other locations. A few summer around the Bay but most continue south to the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Central America.
Mostly aquatic plants.
Drakes whistle; hens utter a muffled quack. Listen to a sample (Requires RealPlayer)
Graceful in flight, northern pintails form flocks have been clocked at 65 miles per hour. Flocks descend from high altitudes in a steep zig-zag before suddenly leveling off and gliding in for a landing. And although they are dabbling ducks, northern pintails generally don’t “tip” as far into the water as other dabblers do because their long neck makes it easier to reach submerged food.
The decoy pictured is from the collection of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art and was photographed by Middleton Evans. Waterfowl sounds are courtesy of the Macaulay Lab of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.