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The Pintail Duck


The Pintail Duck


The definitive website on wildbirds & nature



Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.

VOLUME VI.

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Family
Genus

THE PINTAIL DUCK.
[Northern Pintail.]

ANUS ACUTA, Linn.
[Anus acuta.]

PLATE CCCXC.--MALE AND FEMALE.

The first observation that I made on arriving at Labrador, was that no species of Ducks, excepting those which were entirely or chiefly oceanic, seemed to resort to that coast, and I left the country with the same impression. We saw no Mallards, Teals, Widgeons, or Wood Ducks there; nor any species of Merganser, excepting the Red-breasted, which is a marine bird. The Pintail Duck, then, was not seen in the parts of that country which I visited; nor was it known in Newfoundland, on the Magdeleine Islands, or in the British province of Nova Scotia, at least along its Atlantic boundaries. In Kentucky and the whole of the Western Country, where it is extremely abundant in early autumn, during winter, and up to a very advanced period in spring, you meet with it wherever its usual food is found. It follows the waters of the Mississippi to New Orleans, is seen westward in the prairies of Oppelousas, and extends to the eastward as far as Massachusetts, beyond which, like the Mallard, it is very seldom seen. Indeed, this species is at all times rare on the sea coast of America, and must therefore be considered as an inland bird.

The Pintail, which, in the United States, is better known by the name of Sprigtail, arrives on the western waters early in October, sometimes even about the middle of September, the period of its arrival depending on the state of the weather, or the appearance of other species, with which it keeps company. Their plumage is in fine condition when they arrive; their tailfeathers are then as long as at any other period, and the whole apparel of the adult birds is as perfect as in the breeding season.

On the water, few birds exhibit more graceful motions than the Pintail Duck. Its delicately slender neck, the beautiful form of its body, and its pointed tail, which it always carries highly raised, distinguish it from the other species with which it may associate. There seems also a kind of natural modesty in it which you do not find in other Ducks, and its notes, which are often heard, are soft and pleasant. That these notes should ever have been compared to those of the Mallard, appears to me very strange;--so strange that I am tempted to believe that they who say so must have mistaken Mallards for Pintails.

Whilst with us, the Pintail is found in company with the Baldpate or American Widgeon, the Blue-winged Teal, and the Mallard, more frequently on ponds than on streams, although it sometimes resorts to the latter, when their shores are overhung with beech-trees loaded with their nutritious fruits, of which this species is extremely fond, and in search of which they even ramble to a short distance into the woods. Were this Duck to feed entirely on beech-nuts, I have no doubt that its flesh would be excellent. It feeds on tadpoles in spring, and leeches in autumn, while, during winter, a dead mouse, should it come in its way, is swallowed with as much avidity as by a Mallard. To these articles of food it adds insects of all kinds, and, in fact, it is by no means an inexpert fly-catcher.

The Pintails are less shy in the Western Country than most species of their family, and in this respect they resemble the Blue-winged Teals, which in fact might be called stupid birds with as much propriety as many others. They swim rather deeply, keep close together, and raise the hind part of the body like the Mallards; and on the water, on land, or on the wing, several may generally be killed at a shot. A friend of mine killed nineteen with two shots of his double-barrelled gun. They are scarcely nocturnal, but rest much in the middle of the day, basking in the sunshine whilst on the water, whenever they can indulge in this luxury. While on ponds, they feed along the most shallow parts, or by the edges; and if you take my advice, you will never shoot at them while their heads are at the bottom, and their feet kicking above water. I have several times, for diversion, done so, but in no instance did I damage a single individual. But when they raise their heads, you may commit great havoc among them.

During heavy rains in winter, or after them, the Pintails are fond of alighting on our broad prairies, corn-fields and meadows; and in almost every puddle you may then find them busily engaged. They move over the ground as swiftly as Wood Ducks, still carrying their tail erect, unless when seizing an insect that is on wing or resting on a blade of grass. I knew a particular spot in a corn-field, not many miles from Bayou Sara in Louisiana, where, even after a shower, I was sure to meet with this species, and where I could always have procured a good number, had I thought them likely to be prized at the dinner-table. While I was at General HERNANDEZ'S in Florida, the Pintails were very numerous. They alighted everywhere, and I shot a few in order to satisfy myself that they were of the same species as those I had been accustomed to see. On one occasion I shot at a large flock swimming on a shallow pond in a large savannah, and wounded several, which I was surprised to see diving very expertly as I waded out for them, this species being by no means addicted to that practice. Those which I have now and then wounded, while in a boat and in deep water, soon gave up divine, and surrendered, without exhibiting any of those feats of cunning performed by other species.

The flight of the Pintails is very rapid, greatly protracted, and almost noiseless. They arrive in the Western Country mostly in the dusk of evening, and alight without much circumspection wherever they find water. They remain at night in the ponds where they feed, and continue there generally unless much disturbed. On such occasions they keep in the middle of the water, to avoid their land enemies; but the Virginian and Barred Owls not unfrequently surprise them, and force them to rise or make towards the shore, when they fall a prey to the nocturnal marauders. In the Middle States, they are highly esteemed for the table. There they arrive later and retire sooner towards their breeding-places, than in the country west of the Alleghany Mountains.

PINTAIL DUCK, Anas acuta, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 72.
ANAS ACUTA, Bonap. Syn., p. 383.
ANAS CAUDACUTA, Pintail Duck, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 441.
PINTAIL or WINTER DUCK, Anus acuta, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 386.

PINTAIL DUCK, Anas acuta, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 214; vol. v.p. 615.

Male, 29, 36. Female, 22 1/2, 34.

From Texas throughout the interior, to the Columbia river, and along the Atlantic coast to Maine, during winter and early spring. Breeds in the Arctic regions. Abundant.

Adult Male.

Bill nearly as long as the head, deeper than broad at the base, depressed towards the end, the frontal angles short and obtuse. Upper mandible with the dorsal line at first sloping, then concave, towards the curved unguis nearly straight, the ridge broad and flat at the base, then broadly convex, the sides convex, the edges soft, with about fifty internal lamellae; unguis small, somewhat triangular, curved abruptly at the broad end. Nostrils subbasal, lateral, rather small, oval, pervious. Lower mandible flattish, its angle very long and narrow, the dorsal line very short, slightly convex, the sides convex, the edges soft, with about sixty lamellae.

Head of moderate size, compressed, the forehead rounded. Neck rather long and slender. Body full and depressed. Wings rather small. Feet very short, placed rather far back; tarsus very short, compressed, at its lower part anteriorly with two series of scutella, the rest covered with reticulated angular scales. Toes obliquely scutellate above; first very small, free, with a narrow membrane beneath; third longest; fourth a little shorter, their connecting webs entire, reticulated, at the edge pectinate; claws small, curved, compressed, acute, the hind one smaller and more curved, that of the third toe with an inner sharp edge.

Plumage dense, soft, blended. Feathers of the head and neck short, on the hind head and neck elongated. Wings narrow, of moderate length, acute, the first quill longest, the second nearly equal, the rest rapidly graduated; outer secondaries broad and rounded; inner elongated and tapering, as are their coats, and the scapulars; first quill serrated on the outer edge, somewhat like that of an Owl. Tail of moderate length, tapering, of fourteen tapering feathers, of which the two middle project far beyond the rest.

Bill black, the sides of upper mandible light blue. Iris brown. Feet greyish-blue; claws black. Head, throat, and upper part of neck anteriorly greenish-brown, faintly margined behind with purplish-red; a small part of hind neck dark green; the rest, and the upper parts in general beautifully undulated with very narrow bars of brownish-black and yellowish-white; smaller wing-coverts, alula, and primary quills grey, the latter dark brown towards the end; speculum of a coppery-red, changing to dull green, edged anteriorly with light brownish-red, posteriorly with white; the inner secondaries, and the scapulars, black and green, with broad grey margins. Upper tail-coverts cream-coloured, the outer webs blackish and green; tail light grey, the middle feathers dark brown, glossed with green. On each side of the neck is an oblique band of white, of which colour are the under parts in general, the sides, however, undulated like the back; the lateral feathers of the rump cream-coloured, the lower tail-coverts black, those at the sides edged with white.

Length to end of tail 29 inches; extent of whigs 36; bill along the back 2 2/12, along the edge of lower mandible 2 3/12; tarsus 1 8/12, middle toe 2, its claw 4/12; wing from flexure 11, tail 5 1/2. Weight 2 lbs.

Adult Female.

The female, which is much smaller, has the upper parts variegated with brownish-black and light yellowish-brown, the margin of the feathers, and a mark on each side of the shaft being of the latter colour; the speculum is dusky-green, margined behind with white; the primary quills greyish-brown. The lower parts are of a light brownish-yellow, the sides variegated with brown; the bill is black, the iris brown, the feet light bluish-grey.

Length 22 1/2 inches, extent of wings 34. Weight 1 lb. 9 oz.

Male. Width of mouth 8 twelfths; its roof very deeply concave, with a median prominent line, on which are 8 papillae; the lamellae on the upper mandible 50, and not reaching the margin; those on the upper edge of the lower mandible about 116. Tongue 2 inches 1 twelfth long, fleshy, prominent at the base, with a narrow median groove, thinner and broadly channelled toward the end, the edge thin and bristled, with 6 large papillae toward the base, on each side, the tip somewhat semicircular, very thin, and horny. OEsophagus 11 inches long, 4 twelfths in width, at the lower part of the neck dilated to 8 twelfths, then contracting to 4 twelfths; the proventriculus 8 twelfths in breadth. The stomach a very muscular oblique gizzard, 1 inch 11 twelfths in breadth, 1 inch 4 twelfths long, the right muscle 9 twelfths, the left 11 twelfths thick; the epithelium with two very thick concave grinding plates. Intestine 4 feet long, its average width 4 twelfths; coeca 4 inches 9 twelfths long, their greatest width 2 twelfths, narrow at the commencement and toward the end, 3 inches from the extremity. Liver with the right lobe 2 inches 8 twelfths long. The left 2 inches; gall-bladder 1 inch long, 5 1/2 twelfths broad.

Trachea 8 1/2 inches long, narrow at the commencement, its breadth being 2 1/2 twelfths, gradually enlarging to 4 1/2 twelfths; then contracting to 3 twelfths, and terminating in a transversely oblong bony dilatation, projecting on the left side, with a rounded bulge similar to that of the Dusky Duck and Teal. The rings are firm, 140, besides about 8 which are blended with the tympanum. Bronchial half rings 22 and 26. Muscles as usual.

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