Bird Database

Northern Pintail

(Anas acuta)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Wetland loss, Climate change

Conservation Actions

Manage waterfowl harvest, Wetland protection

Northern Pintail

(Anas acuta)

The Northern Pintail was once one of the most abundant ducks in North America. Population estimates from the 1950s through 1970s peaked at 5-10 million birds, most of which were in the U.S. and Canadian prairies. In stark contrast, numbers from 2000 on have rarely reached four million. Throughout this history, pintail numbers have fluctuated widely from year to year due to habitat conditions. In drought years the prairie potholes used for nesting can dry out and the ducks fail to breed. On the plus side, pintails can also be highly nomadic, and during drought in one area, a significant portion of the population might shift to a wetter part of the range and nest there.

Changes in agricultural practices across the breeding range have also been detrimental to pintails over the decades. Many shallow wetlands have been lost directly through drainage and shifts to summer cropping rather than leaving some fields fallow have similarly reduced available habitat. Some of these same issues can affect winter habitat, especially in heavily agricultural areas such as central California and in parts of the southeastern U.S. Birds using old agricultural fields during the non-breeding season also run the risk of ingesting contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins.

We haven’t seen the dramatic decline in this handsome duck in New Hampshire, largely because – as with the other ducks of the Great Plains – we are at the extreme edge of its range. It’s rare to see more than a handful at a time here, so fine-tuned trend information is not available. When they do occur, pintails are seen primarily during spring and fall migration, which averages earlier and later, respectively, than other dabbling ducks. It’s not uncommon for the first northbound pintails of “spring” to be found in February, and those seen in December might still be on their way back south.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Northern Pintail
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count