NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP
The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a relatively rare winter resident dabbling duck on Abaco. The species has a huge range, being found throughout much of the northern hemisphere.
The ‘acuta’ in the Latin name refers to the characteristic sharp ‘pin tail’. As so often, the drake is a somewhat flashy specimen while the female is unassuming or, as some sources harshly put it, dull and drab. And while the drake makes a melodious whistle, the female simply quacks or croaks.
Northern Pintails form flocks and are happy to mix with other species. Their long necks give the edge over similarly-sized dabbling ducks such as the mallard, enabling them to reach deeper down in the water to feed.
THREATS TO THE SPECIES
- Predation of nests and chicks by animals and birds such as birds of prey and (some) gulls
- Parasites including worms and lice, to which they seem to be susceptible; and avian diseases including bird ‘flu
- Hunting: they are a good target species being swift and agile in the air (for sport) yet quite large (for success rate). Also, delicious (for dinner).
- Lead poisoning from shot or angling tackle, research has shown. A major problem with all bottom-feeders, though improved where laws prohibiting lead shot have been introduced
- Loss of wetland areas to agriculture or due to habitat or climate changes
On Abaco, Northern Pintails arrive in the autumn and leave as spring approaches. They are most likely to be found on ponds such as the one at Treasure Cay Golf Course, where I photographed the male; and at Gilpin Point where I spotted the lone female (at a distance). Below are both genders together for comparison (NB not taken on Abaco).
Mating is aquatic, by the usual anatine method in which the female lowers herself in the water to indicate her agreement to the proposal whereupon the male tries to drown her. Apparently after mating, the male raises his head and whistles – whether as a signal that it’s all over or exaltation or relief has not been researched. Yet.
Credits: RH x 3, Peter Mantle x 1, Tony Hepburn x 1, Woody Bracey x 1, J M Garg x 2, Birdorable