Index of Species Information



AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Anas acuta. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : ANAC COMMON NAMES : northern pintail pintail American pintail common pintail sprig sprigtail spike TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the northern pintail is Anas acuta Linnaeus. There are no recognized subspecies [1,3,10]. ORDER : Anseriformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The northern pintail has one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any North American duck [14]. Its breeding range extends from northern Alaska across northern Canada to northern and eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and from from California across the Great Lakes region to St. Lawrence River, Maine [3,10]. The northern pintail also breeds in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, Asia, and in the Kerguelen and Corozet Islands [10]. These ducks winter from southern Alaska south to northern New Mexico and east to central Missouri and the Ohio Valley, and along the Atlantic from Massachusetts south throughout the southern United States to South America [3,10,13]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands STATES :


BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K001 Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest K002 Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest K004 Fir - hemlock forest K005 Mixed conifer forest K008 Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest K013 Cedar - hemlock - pine forest K025 Alder - ash forest K029 California mixed evergreen forest K047 Fescue - oatgrass K048 California steppe K049 Tule marshes K050 Fescue - wheatgrass K051 Wheatgrass - bluegrass K053 Grama - galleta steppe K054 Grama - tobosa prairie K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe K057 Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe K058 Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe K063 Foothills prairie K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass K065 Grama - buffalograss K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K068 Wheatgrass - grama - buffalograss K069 Bluestem - grama prairie K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie K072 Sea oats prairie K073 Northern cordgrass prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie K078 Southern cordgrass prairie K079 Palmetto prairie K080 Marl - everglades K081 Oak savanna K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100 K088 Fayette prairie K090 Live oak - sea oats K091 Cypress savanna K092 Everglades K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest K094 Conifer bog K095 Great Lakes pine forest K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest K098 Northern floodplain forest K100 Oak - hickory forest K106 Northern hardwoods K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest K109 Transition between K104 and K106 K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest K113 Southern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES : 12 Black spruce 13 Black spruce - tamarack 16 Aspen 17 Pin cherry 18 Paper birch 19 Gray birch - red maple 38 Tamarack 5 Balsam fir 63 Cottonwood 88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak 89 Live oak 91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak 95 Black willow 201 White spruce 202 White spruce - paper birch 203 Balsam poplar 204 Black spruce 205 Mountain hemlock 206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir 217 Aspen 235 Cottonwood - willow 253 Black spruce - white spruce 254 Black spruce - paper birch 252 Paper birch SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Northern pintails commonly inhabit wetland communities dominated by cattail (Typha spp.), bulrush (Scirpus spp.), whitetop (Scolochloa festucacea), and other emergent and aquatic vegetation [1,5]. Nests of these ducks are often found in extensive stands of whitetop, bluegrass (Poa spp.), or hardstem bulrushes (Scirpus acutus); juncus (Juncus spp.) beds; mixed prairie grasses; and burned weed areas. Northern pintails nest in farmland habitats more than other species of waterfowl do. Stubble fields, roadsides, hayfields, pastures, field edges, and fields of growing grain are often chosen as nest sites [1]. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Age at first reproduction - Northern pintails become sexually mature in their first winter of life, and most females attempt to breed as yearlings [10]. Pair formation/breeding - Pair formation occurs over several months, starting on wintering areas in early December and continuing through the spring migration [10]. Pairs generally arrive on their breeding grounds in early spring and breed from April through June [13]. Nesting - From South Dakota to Utah and California and north to Brooks, Alberta; Redvers, Saskatchewan; and the Delta marshes, Manitoba, nesting begins from early to mid-April. However, cold weather just prior to nesting may delay initiation by as much as 2 weeks [1]. Farther north, northern pintails nest later. At Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, first nests were started as early as May 7 and as late as May 21. On the Yukon flats, northern pintails began to nest May 8 to 18 [1]. Clutch/incubation and fledging - Northern pintails generally lay between 6 and 12 eggs per nest [14]. The average clutch is eight eggs [10]. Incubation takes 22 to 23 days [14]. The ducklings fledge within 40 to 46 days [10]. Migration - After their postbreeding molt, northern pintails migrate to wintering grounds from mid-August onwards [13]. While some are leaving their arctic breeding grounds in Alaska in September others are arriving on their winter grounds in California, Texas, and Louisiana [1]. Northern pintails in the northern Great Plains region are at their greatest abundance the first week in September. In the central Great Plains region they are abundant through September and early October. Small numbers of northern pintails arrive on Gulf Coast marshes and lagoons of Louisiana and Texas in September. The number of arrivals is greatest through October to December. They start to leave their wintering grounds in late January or early February, and departure continues through March [1]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Breeding habitat - The northern pintail's breeding habitat varies greatly throughout its geographic range. In general, however, the northern pintail typically inhabit open country with low vegetation and many scattered small shallow bodies of water. It frequents lakes, rivers, marshes, and ponds in grasslands, barrens, dry tundra, open boreal forest, and cultivated fields [3,10,13]. Areas where water is lined with trees are avoided, but this duck is often associated with brushy thickets or aspen (Populus spp.) coppices around sloughs in western Canada [10,19]. In the arctic, it is found in marshy, low tundra where shallow freshwater lakes occur, especially those with dense vegetation along the shoreline [10]. Winter habitat - The northern pintail's winter habitat is also diverse; they winter on freshwater and brackish coastal marshes, shallow lagoons, mudflats along rivers, and sheltered marine waters [3,10,13]. Nest - The northern pintail builds its nest in a hollow on dry ground generally within 300 feet (91 m) of water. These nests are generally hidden in weeds and grasses or under small shrubs [13,14]. This duck nests in stubble fields, in a dry portion within a large marsh, or in lightly grazed pasture but generally avoid nesting in timbered or extensively brushy areas [3]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Northern pintails are associated with relatively large water areas generally exceeding 10 acres (4 ha) [9]. They need exposed water margins for resting [3]. These ducks prefer open shallow waters and mudflats for resting and preening [9]. Howard and Kantrud [9] suggest that optimal winter habitat for northern pintails should contain less than 30 percent coverage by persistent emergent vegetation. In Texas, use of wetlands by northern pintails was high if relatively tall emergent growth covered less than 20 percent of the surface; ponds with greater than 60 percent coverage by tall emergent growth was used little. Northern pintails use denser cover at night than is typically used during the day [9]. Areas with small shrubs, grass, or weeds provide nesting cover for northern pintails [3]. FOOD HABITS : Northern pintails are surface feeders. They generally feed in shallow waters of marshes, ponds, and wet meadows or grain fields. They mainly consume seeds, roots, and leaves of aquatic plants, emergents, and many terrestrial plants [10,14]. Plants commonly eaten by northern pintails include pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), sedges (Carex spp.), smartweed (Polygonum spp.), fall panicum (Panicum dichotomiflorus), brownseed paspalum (Paspalum plicatulum), panic grass (Panicum spp.), bulrush, widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), chufa (Cyperus spp.), and saltgrass (Distichlis spp.) [1,3]. Northern pintails eat the grains of wheat, barley, corn, rice, and oats. On their wintering grounds in Texas, northern pintails make extensive use of barley and rice grains [1]. Northern pintails also eat a small amount of animal matter such as minnows, crawfish, fairly shrimp, tadpoles, leeches, worms, snails, insects, and larvae [3,14,18]. PREDATORS : Northern pintails nest early and in more open sites than other species of ducks and therefore may suffer greater nest loss from predation. Predators of northern pintails include humans, crows (Corvus spp.), skunks (Mephitis spp.), magpies (Pica spp.), gulls (Larus spp.), ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), coyotes (Canis latrans), foxes (Vulpes spp.), racoons (Procyon lotor), and badgers (Taxidea taxus) [1]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Northern pintail nests are especially vulnerable to farming operations because pintails nest in stubble fields. A study of northern pintails nesting on the Portage Plains, Manitoba, showed that farming operations directly destroyed 57 percent of all northern pintail nests in 1956 and 41 percent of all nests in 1957. Losses were caused by cultivation, disking, mowing, plowing, and harrowing [1]. During drought years, many northern pintails will migrate farther north to breeding areas of the boreal forests and subarctic and arctic deltas [1]. Arctic coastal plain wetlands with rich invertebrate food resources and stable water levels are important for northern pintails during years of drought in the prairie regions [20]. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Stubble fields in which northern pintails nest are often burned in the spring by farmers. Therefore, northern pintail nests are highly susceptible to destruction by fire [1,5]. Ducklings and molting adults are very vulnerable to fire. When not molting, adult northern pintails can probably easily escape fire. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fire can destroy nesting cover used by northern pintails. One study of agricultural spring burning within Manitoba's pothole region showed that northern pintails preferred unburned nest cover [5]. Here, fires before May 10 destroy nesting cover and nests of these ducks. Large-scale autumn burning can have a detrimental effect on marshes by reducing their ability to catch and retain drifting snow, which adds heavily to spring run-off. The ability of marsh vegetation to catch and hold snow can be vital to marsh survival [17]. The effects of fire on northern pintails are not all negative; fire can create feeding habitat. According to Hoffpauer [8] it is not uncommon to see large numbers of northern pintails in recently burned areas on Louisiana and Texas coastal marshes. On these burns, northern pintails feed upon small aquatic grubs that have been stirred up by snow geese (Chen caerulescens). Additionally, fire often removes excessive accumulations of fast-growing hydrophytes permitting better waterfowl access and growth of more desirable duck foods. Fire can also convert forested uplands adjacent to aquatic habitats to grasses and sedges, thus increasing the nesting potential of some waterfowl [16]. FIRE USE : Wetlands can be burned to create nesting edge for waterfowl and reverse plant succession to a subclimax plant community which is more attractive to waterfowl. Control of woody encroachment is vital if prairie marshes are to remain in this successional state [17]. Fire can be used to reduce predator activity through the elimination of hiding cover. Fritzell [5] found greater hatching success in burned versus unburned cover, suggesting a reduction of predator activity in burned areas. Desirable northern pintail foods such as pondweed can be restored using fire by removing fast-growing undesirable species such as common reed (Phragmites australis) [15]. The best way to reduce common reed with prescribed burning is to burn during the summer when carbohydrate reserves in the plant are low and when the soil is dry [7]. If prescribed burning is used as a management tool in marshes, burning must be conducted before or after the nesting season [15,17]. Spring burning in the Manitoba pothole region must be completed before April 20 when northern pintails start nesting [17]. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


REFERENCES : 1. Bellrose, Frank C. 1980. Ducks, geese and swans of North America. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books. 3rd ed. 540 p. [19802] 2. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 3. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Scott, Virgil E.; Hamre, R. H.; [and others]. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. Agric. Handb. 688. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 625 p. [15856] 4. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 5. Fritzell, Erik K. 1975. Effects of agricultural burning on nesting waterfowl. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 89: 21-27. [14635] 6. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 7. Higgins, Kenneth F.; Kruse, Arnold D.; Piehl, James L. 1989. Effects of fire in the Northern Great Plains. Ext. Circ. EC-761. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University, Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. 47 p. [14749] 8. Hoffpauier, Clark M. 1968. Burning for coastal marsh management. In: Newsom, John D., ed. Proceedings of the marsh and estuary management symposium; 1967; Baton Rouge, LA. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University: 134-139. [15274] 9. Howard, Rebecca J.; Kantrud, Harold A. 1986. Habitat suitability index models: northern pintail (Gulf Coast wintering). Biological Report 82(10.121). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 16 p. [20030] 10. Johnsgard, Paul A. 1979. A guide to North American waterfowl. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 274 p. [20026] 11. Kruse, Arnold D.; Higgins, Kenneth F. 1990. Effects of prescribed fire upon wildlife habitat in northern mixed-grass prairie. In: Alexander, M. E.; Bisgrove, G. F., technical coordinators. The art and science of fire management: Proceedings, 1st Interior West Fire Council annual meeting and workshop; 1988 October 24-27; Kananaskis Village, AB. Inf. Rep. NOR-X-309. Edmonton, AB: Forestry Canada, Northwest Region, Northern Forestry Centre: 182-193. [14146] 12. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 13. Madge, Steve; Burn, Hilary. 1988. Waterfowl: An indentification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 298 p. [20029] 14. Musgrove, Jack W.; Musgrove, Mary R. 1943. Waterfowl in Iowa. Des Moines, IA: State Convservation Committee. 113 p. + index. [20028] 15. Schlichtemeier, Gary. 1967. Marsh burning for waterfowl. In: Proceedings, 6th annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1967 March 6-7; Tallahassee, FL. No. 6. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 40-46. [16450] 16. Vogl, Richard J. 1967. Controlled burning for wildlife in Wisconsin. In: Proceedings, 6th annual Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference; 1967 March 6-7; Tallahassee, FL. No. 6. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 47-96. [18726] 17. Ward, P. 1968. Fire in relation to waterfowl habitat of the delta marshes. In: Proceedings, annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1968 March 14-15; Tallahassee, FL. No. 8. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 255-267. [18932] 18. Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1962. Life histories of North American wild fowl. Part 1. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 244 p. [20027] 19. Vermeer, Kees. 1970. Some aspects of the nesting of ducks on islands in Lake Newell, Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Management. 34(1): 126-129. [20041] 20. Derkson, D. V.; Eldridge, W. D. 1980. Drought displacement of pintails to the Arctic Coast Plain, Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Management. 44: 224-229. [20258] 21. Donohoe, Robert W. 1974. American hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana Walt. In: Gill, John D.; Healy, William M., eds. Shrubs and vines for northeastern wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-9. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station: 86-88. [13714]

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