Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE PINTAIL DUCK.
ANUS ACUTA, Linn.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.