Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Northern pintail
Anas acuta

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Genus: Anas
  • Species: Anas acuta
  • Authority: Linnaeus

OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Common migrant. Formerly bred in northern IL, now rarely does so *04,07*. Presumably, loss of habitat is responsible for this decrease.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

 

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Lacustrine Littoral Emergent vegetation Persistent
Nonpersistent
Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent
Nonpersistent
Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Riverine   Emergent vegetation Persistent
Nonpersistent
Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified

Comments on species-habitat associations:
In the northern midwest, nesting habitat is prairie. Migratory and wintering habitat is practically anywhere that has open water and food *06*.

Important plant and animal association: Nest predators are a major source of mortality *12*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Streams and canals
Lakes
Reservoirs
Bays and estuaries
Nonforested wetland
Lakes and ponds
Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) All
Cropland and pasture
Prairie
Marsh
Prairie restoration
Marsh restoration
Special habitat All

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Cropland and pasture Special habitat All Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Cropland Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) All Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Streams and canals
Lakes and ponds
Reservoirs
Bays and estuaries
Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) All Water bottom-aquatic bed, rooted vascular plants
Water column-rooted vascular plants
Water surface-floating vascular plants
Water surface-rooted herbaceous plants at surface
Water surface-rooted herbaceous plants through surface
Water bottom-aquatic bed, arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, fish
Nonforested wetland
Marsh
Marsh restoration
Special habitat All Water bottom-aquatic bed, rooted vascular plants
Water column-rooted vascular plants
Water surface-floating vascular plants
Water surface-rooted herbaceous plants at surface
Water surface-rooted herbaceous plants through surface
Water bottom-aquatic bed, arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, fish

Comments on feed-guilding:
Animals constitute only a small part of pintail's diet. Native wild plants make up the largest part of their diet, corn only becoming important when these are less abundant *18,19*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Cropland and pasture
Prairie
Prairie restoration
Special habitat Spring Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, marshy areas with hydrophytes but not hydric soils
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation

Comments on breed-guilding:
Nests are in prairies, edge of marshes and other open habitats. In central North America, nesting commonly occurs in stubble (e.g., wheat) fields *01,02,06,08*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is OMNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Algae All
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) All
Amaranthaceae (amaranthus) All
Rubiaceae (buttonbush, bedstraw, quinine) All
Poaceae (grass) All
Poaceae (grass): corn All
Zosteraceae (pondweed) All
Alismataceae (arrowhead) All
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) All
Lemnaceae (duckweed) All
Bryozoa Not applicable
Mollusca: Bivalvia (bivalves) Adult
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Adult
Crustaceans Adult
Insecta All
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Nymph
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) All
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Adult
Tricoptera (caddisflies) Larva
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult
Important:
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) All
Amaranthaceae (amaranthus) All
Rubiaceae (buttonbush, bedstraw, quinine) All
Poaceae (grass) All
Poaceae (grass): corn All
Zosteraceae (pondweed) All
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) All
Juvenile:
Algae All
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) All
Amaranthaceae (amaranthus) All
Rubiaceae (buttonbush, bedstraw, quinine) All
Poaceae (grass) All
Poaceae (grass): corn All
Zosteraceae (pondweed) All
Alismataceae (arrowhead) All
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) All
Lemnaceae (duckweed) All
Bryozoa Not applicable
Mollusca: Bivalvia (bivalves) Adult
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Adult
Crustaceans Adult
Insecta All
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Nymph
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) All
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Adult
Tricoptera (caddisflies) Larva
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult
Adult:
Algae All
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) All
Amaranthaceae (amaranthus) All
Rubiaceae (buttonbush, bedstraw, quinine) All
Poaceae (grass) All
Poaceae (grass): corn All
Zosteraceae (pondweed) All
Alismataceae (arrowhead) All
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) All
Lemnaceae (duckweed) All
Bryozoa Not applicable
Mollusca: Bivalvia (bivalves) Adult
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Adult
Crustaceans Adult
Insecta All
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Nymph
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) All
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Adult
Tricoptera (caddisflies) Larva
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult

Comments on food habits: 
General: Plant material constitutes almost all of the pintail's diet *18,19*. Any or all of a plant's parts may be consumed, and literature is not always specific (seed vs. vegetation), so the "all" category was used.
Juvenile: Juveniles are presumed to have diets similar to adults.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: stream weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: borrow pit
  • Aquatic habitats: backwaters
  • Ecotones: crop field/water
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: unknown
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: unknown
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: stream weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: borrow pit
  • Aquatic habitats: backwaters
  • Ecotones: crop field/water
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: unknown
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: stream weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: borrow pit
  • Aquatic habitats: backwaters
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: stream weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: borrow pit
  • Aquatic habitats: backwaters
  • Ecotones: crop field/water
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Breeding adult:

  • Ecotones: crop field/water
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: unknown
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Comments on environmental associations:
General: During migration (e.g., in IL) found in shallow water habitats. During breeding season grasslands, prairie, grain stubble fields - habitats with low sometimes sparse vegetation are important *01*.
Feeding juvenile: Juveniles are presumed to feed (and rest) near the nest when young and in same habitats as parents when older.
Breeding adult: Breeds in low sparse vegetation (near water), making grain stubble fields a nesting habitat *08*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *04*.

Physical description: Slender duck, with a long slim neck and tail and narrow pointed wings. Male: fine black markings on white feathers give back and sides a grey color; white on breast extends up the front of the neck to the throat and continues as a point or stripe along the sides of a brown head. Green speculum. Long central tail feathers form a very long and pointed tail. About 25 in. long, 2.25 lb. weight. Call is a distinctive simple whistle. Female: mottled brown, brown speculum. Similar appearance to hen mallard. Smaller than male - 21 in. long and 2 lb. *01,02,03*. Pintails are swift, capable of flying 65 mph, 45-50 mph for sustained periods *05,14*.

Reproduction: Rarely breeds in IL. *04,07*. Pintails are one of the first ducks to arrive in spring, in IL migrants are present from mid-Feb. to mid-Apr. *04*. Pairing begins on winter grounds, continues in migration and continues on breeding grounds, where groups of drakes may compete for a hen, or displays may include only one drake and hen. Displays are elaborate and well described. See Palmer *01* for a detailed account. Both sexes usually breed at 1 yr. *01,02*. More often than other duck species, pintails nest in areas of low sometimes sparse vegetation: prairie, stubble wheat fields, bare earth *01,02,06,09*. Nests are shallow scrapes, sparsely lined with down and vegetation and often poorly concealed *02,09*. Nests are located farther from water than most prairie ducks species; as far as 0.5 mi., usually about 40 yd. *02,07*. Hen digs nest *07*, 4 d. before egg-laying *02*. Eggs are laid 1/d.; hen begins incubation with last egg *06*. Clutch is 3-14 eggs, 7.76 ave. *02*. After egg- laying, a mated drake will chose other hens away from his mate's nest site. This serves to increase spacing between nests. Drake deserts hen shortly after she begins incubation *02*. Pintails are not territorial, nor are they social nesters. Nesting densities of 5-12 pairs/sq. mi. have been measures *02*. The pintail is a "persistent" renester *02,06*; though her willingness to do so may depend on remaining suitable habitat *02*. Incubation requires 22-23 d.; all eggs in a clutch hatch within an 8 hr. period *02*. Within hours of hatching, a hen moves her brood from the nest to water, over long distances, and sometimes from one body of water to another *01,02*. The hen is very defensive of her brood *06*, and will actively lure predators from the brood by feigning injury *02,07*. Young fledge in 38-52 d. *01*; males seem to require 5 d. longer *06*.

Behavior: Relative to other ducks, the pintail is one of the earliest fall migrants and also one of the first to migrate north in the spring. It also has a relatively long fall migration period and short spring period *02*. The Mississippi migration corridor is the eastern most flyway that winters large numbers of pintails. Most of these birds winter in La., but part of these turn east in southern IL, And fly to coastal SC wintering grounds *02*. Through migrational homing, pintails return to the previous year's nesting ground or their natal grounds. The majority of surviving hens will return to last year's nesting area. Pairing begins on the wintering grounds, hence, drakes are less likely to home, following hens to their previous nesting grounds. Also, juvenile hens do not return to natal grounds as often as adults to previous nesting prairies *08*. In these ways, offspring are dispersed. In contrast, the pintail is quick to abandon old nesting grounds if conditions become unsuitable and also will readily pioneer new available nesting habitat *02,08*.

Limiting factors: Nesting mortality is high; predation upon hens, eggs and ducklings is often primary cause *12*. In one study *12*, when red fox, skunk, raccoon and badger populations were controlled, nesting densities and hatchling rates were very high. Crows, gulls and ground squirrels are also nest predators *02,08*. Human disturbance during nesting season may have two deleterious effects. If nests are not directly destroyed (e.g., by farming operations), then the defending hen may attract the attention of nest predators *02,08*. Lead poisoning is a well documented source of mortality *10, 15*. In a 1959 paper, it was estimated that 4% of mallards in the Mississippi flyway die from lead poisoning, and that pintails are the second most susceptible species to lead poisoning. The alteration of wetlands may reduce fall pintail populations. In IL *10,13* their abundance has been correlated with wetland plant abundance. Through draining, erosion, channelization and other human impacts, these plants are being severly reduced in abundance.

Population parameters: Mortality rates are lower than those of many ducks: first year, 46-90%, each adult year, 35-58% *01,02*. Adult survival rate has been estimated at .52; mean adult life span for individuals surviving to fledging is less than 3 yr. *06*. Sex ratio about 1:1 at hatching; changes in ratio at different life stages not consistent. Hunters are biased towards shooting drakes and immatures. Fall populations have approximately equal age classes *02,08*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Seasonal restriction of human use of habitats
  • Controlling pollution
  • Controlling sedimentation
  • Controlling pollution in aquatic habitats
  • Controlling water levels
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Regulating hunting
  • Developing/maintaining food plots

Adverse:

  • Haying/mowing
  • Strip mining

Existing:

  • Performing special survey prior to prescription

Comments on management practices:
See comments on species environmental associations and limiting factors. The use of steel non-toxic shot in waterfowl hunting areas is a beneficial management practice employed in some areas *17*. In the central states pintails nesting in grain stubble are at risk from agricultural operations (e.g., mowing) *08*. See "limiting factors" in life history. Control of nesting predators increases nesting success. See "limiting factors" in life history.

 


REFERENCES

0. BUTCHER, M.K. 1984. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. PALMER, R.S. 1962. HANDBOOK OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. VOL. 2. YALE UNIV. PRESS. NEW HAVEN. 521 P.

2. BELLROSE, F.C. 1976. DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS OF NORTH AMERICA. 2 ED. STOCKPOLE BOOKS, HARRISBURG, PA. 544 PP.

3. PETERSON, R. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4 ED. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

4. BOHLEN, H. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX. 156 P.

5. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

6. JOHNSGARD, P.A. 1975. WATERFOWL OF NORTH AMERICA. INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS, BLOOMINGTON & LONDON. 575 PP.

7. BENT, A.C. 1923. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN WILD FOWL. U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 126.

8. SOWLS, L.K. 1955. PRAIRIE DUCKS. THE STACKPOLE CO., HARRISBURG, PA. 193 PP.

9. HARRISON, H.H. 1979. A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS' NESTS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 279 PP.

10. BELLROSE, F.C. 1959. LEAD POISONING AS A MORTALITY FACTOR IN WATERFOWL POPULATIONS. ILLINOIS NAT. HIST. SURV. BULL. 27(3).

12. DUEBBERT, H.F. AND J.T. LOEKMOEN. 1980. HIGH DUCK NESTING SUCCESS IN A PREDATOR-REDUCED ENVIRONMENT. J. WILDL. MANAGE. 44(2):428-437.

13. BELLROSE, F.C., F.L. PAVEGLIS JR. AND D.W. STEFFACK. 1979. WATERFOWL POPULATIONS AND THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT OF THE ILLINOIS RIVER VALLEY. ILLINOIS NAT. HIST. SURV. BULL. 32(1).

14. SPRUNT, A. AND E. CHAMBERLAIN. 1970. SOUTH CAROLINA BIRD LIFE. UNIV. SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS, COLUMBIA. 655 P.

15. BELLROSE, F.C. AND J. JORDAN. 1975. LEAD POISONING IN THE WATERFOWL DOSAGE AND DIETARY STUDY. JOINT REPORT OF ILLINOIS NAT. HIST. SURV. AND OLIN CORP., WINCHESTER GROUP. 70 PP.

16. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT TO THE AUK 99(3).

17. ILLINOIS DEPARMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. WEST PUBLISHING CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 123 PP.

18. ANDERSON, H.G. 1959. FOOD HABITS OF MIGRATORY DUCKS IN ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS NAT. HIST. SURV. BULL. 27(4).

19. MARTIN, A., H. ZIM AND A. NELSON. 1951. AMERICAN WILDLIFE AND PLANTS. MCGRAW-HILL BOOK CO., INC., N.Y.C. 500 P.

 


 

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