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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Northern Pintail -- Anas acuta
(formerly Pintail)


RANGE: Breeds from northern Alaska across northern Canada to northern and eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to California, across to the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, and Maine. Winters from southern Alaska south to northern New Mexico, and east to central Missouri and the Ohio Valley (uncommonly); along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts, south throughout the southern United States to South America.

STATUS: Abundant in the West and common in the East.

HABITAT: Found in a wide variety of habitats, but typically inhabits open country with low vegetation and with many scattered small, shallow bodies of water. Frequents lakes, rivers, marshes and ponds in grasslands, barrens, dry tundra, open boreal forest, and cultivated fields. Winters on freshwater and brackish coastal marshes, shallow lagoons, mudflats along rivers, and sheltered marine waters.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Drakes need mudbanks or exposed water margins for resting; also shallow wetlands for feeding.

NEST: Often builds a nest in a hollow on dry ground, sometimes concealed by grasses or shrubs, usually within 300 feet (occasionally a half mile) from water. Nests in stubble fields, in a dry portion within a large marsh, or in lightly grazed pasture, but generally avoids timbered or extensively brushy areas.

FOOD: Prefers to feed in shallow waters of marshes, ponds, and wet meadows, or in grainfields. Primarily a seed-eater; mostly (87 percent) consumes vegetative diet, consisting of seeds of pondweeds, sedges, grasses, smartweeds, and cultivated grains; also takes some fairy shrimp, snails, earthworms, mollusks, crustaceans, dipteran larvae, and other insects.

REFERENCES: Bellrose 1976, DeGraff et al. 1980, Johnsgard 1975b, Krapu 1974, Palmer 1976a.


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