email a friend
printable version
Northern Pintail Anas acuta

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 5,300,000-5,400,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The overall population trend is decreasing, although some populations may be stable and others have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2006). This species has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (-77.3% decline over 40 years, equating to a -31% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).

Behaviour This species is strongly migratory throughout its northern range (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005b) although some populations in the Southern Hemisphere are sedentary (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It breeds in solitary pairs or loose groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992) from April to June (Madge and Burn 1988), with males leaving the breeding areas first from May to early-June to undertake extensive moult migrations (females following later) (Scott and Rose 1996). During moult, large sexually segregated (Madge and Burn 1988) flocks gather in moulting areas (Kear 2005b) (e.g. in the Netherlands and Russia), although small gatherings are also possible (Scott and Rose 1996). The flightless moult period lasts for around 4 weeks (Johnsgard 1978, Scott and Rose 1996) between July and August (Scott and Rose 1996) after which flocks move southwards to winter quarters from mid-August onwards (Madge and Burn 1988, Scott and Rose 1996). The species is highly gregarious in winter and on passage, often forming enormous concentrations (Madge and Burn 1988, Scott and Rose 1996) (although the size of flock depends on the size of the wetland) (Snow and Perrins 1998). It feeds nocturnally (Brown et al. 1982, Hockey et al. 2005), flocks roosting by day on open water (Brown et al. 1982). Habitat The species shows a preference for open lowland grassland (Snow and Perrins 1998), prairie or tundra habitats (Johnsgard 1978) containing freshwater, brackish and saline wetlands with shallow water (10-30 cm deep (Snow and Perrins 1998)) to facilitate dabbling (Kear 2005b). Wetland habitats include shallow freshwater marshes (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005), small marshy lakes, slow-flowing rivers (Johnsgard 1978, Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005), wet meadows (Madge and Burn 1988), flood-plains and sewage ponds (southern Africa) (Hockey et al. 2005), especially favouring ponds with low, dense marginal vegetation and wetlands interspersed with brushy thickets or copses (Johnsgard 1978). During the winter it also frequents large inland lakes (Scott and Rose 1996), brackish coastal lagoons (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Scott and Rose 1996), brackish (Madge and Burn 1988) and saline marshes (Steele et al. 1997), shallow fresh or brackish estuaries (Johnsgard 1978, Brown et al. 1982, Snow and Perrins 1998), tidal flats (Madge and Burn 1988) and river deltas (Scott and Rose 1996) with adjacent agricultural land (e.g. stubble fields (Snow and Perrins 1998)) and scattered impoundments (Johnsgard 1978). Diet This species is omnivorous (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and opportunistic (Johnsgard 1978), its diet consisting of algae (Brown et al. 1982), seeds (Hockey et al. 2005) (e.g. cereals (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and rice (Brown et al. 1982)), tubers (e.g. potatoes) (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005), and the vegetative parts of aquatic plants, sedges (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005) and grasses (Brown et al. 1982, Hockey et al. 2005), as well as aquatic invertebrates (e.g. insects, molluscs and crustaceans), amphibians (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005) and small fish (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The nest is a slight hollow on the ground amongst vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. rushes, grass or low scrub) and can be close to or more than 1 km away from water (Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005b). The species is not normally colonial but neighbours may nest as close as 2-3 m apart (Kear 2005b).

The species is threatened by wetland habitat loss on its breeding and wintering grounds (Scott and Rose 1996). Reclamation of coastal areas for industrial development poses a threat in Europe, and major river diversion and irrigation schemes threaten wintering areas in Niger and Nigeria (Scott and Rose 1996). The species is also threatened by petroleum pollution, wetland drainage, peat-extraction, changing wetland management practices (decreased grazing and mowing in meadows leading to scrub over-growth) and the burning and mowing of reeds in Russia (Grishanov 2006). The species suffers from over-exploitation in Europe (Kear 2005b), and is hunted for sport in North America (Baldassarre and Bolen 1994, Schmidt 2006). It also suffers poisoning from lead shot ingestion in North America (Baldassarre and Bolen 1994), poisoning from white phosphorous (from firearms) ingestion in Alaska (Steele et al. 1997), and reproductive impairment as a result of selenium (Se) accumulation in liver tissues (selenium contained in sub-surface agricultural drain-water used for wetland management in California led to bioaccumulation of the element in the food chain (Paveglio et al. 1997). The pecies is predated by feral cats Felis catus and rats Rattus norvegicus on islands (del Hoyo et al. 1992), and is susceptible to avian botulism (Rocke 2006) and avian influenza (Melville and Shortridge 2006, Gaidet et al. 2007) so may be threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases. Utilisation The species is hunted recreationally in Denmark (Bregnballe et al. 2006) and the Po delta, Italy (Sorrenti et al. 2006), and is hunted commercially and recreationally in Iran (Balmaki and Barati 2006). The eggs of this species used to be (and possibly still are) harvested in Iceland (Gudmundsson 1979). The species is also traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria (Nikolaus 2001).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Baldassarre, G. A.; Bolen, E. G. 1994. Waterfowl ecology and management. John Wiley, New York.

Balmaki, B.; Barati, A. 2006. Harvesting status of migratory waterfowl in northern Iran: a case study from Gilan Province. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 868-869. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Bregnballe, T.; Noer, H.; Christensen, T. K.; Clausen, P.; Asferg, T.; Fox, A. D.; Delany, S. 2006. Sustainable hunting of migratory waterbirds: the Danish approach. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 854-860. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Brown, L. H.; Urban, E. K.; Newman, K. 1982. The birds of Africa vol I. Academic Press, London.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Gaidet, N.; Dodman, T.; Caron, A.; Balança, G.; Desvaux, S.; Goutard, F.; Cattoli, G.; Lamarque, F.; Hagemeijer, W.; Monicat, F. 2007. Avian Influenza Viruses in Water Birds, Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 13(4): 626-629.

Grishanov, D. 2006. Conservation problems of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds and their habitats in the Kaliningrad region of Russia. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 356. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Gudmundsson, F. 1979. The past status and exploitation of the Myvatn waterfowl populations. Oikos 32((1-2)): 232-249.

Hockey, P. A. R.; Dean, W. R. J.; Ryan, P. G. 2005. Roberts birds of southern Africa. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town, South Africa.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Madge, S.; Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Nikolaus, G. 2001. Bird exploitation for traditional medicine in Nigeria. Malimbus 23: 45-55.

Paveglio, F. L.; Kilbride, K. M.; Bunck, C. M. 1997. Selenium in aquatic birds from central California. Journal of Wildlife Management 61(3): 832-839.

Rocke, T. E. 2006. The global importance of avian botulism. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 422-426. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Schmidt, P. R. 2006. Flyway conservation in North America. Workshop Introduction. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 197-198. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Scott, D. A.; Rose, P. M. 1996. Atlas of Anatidae populations in Africa and western Eurasia. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sorrenti, M.; Carnacina, L.; Radice, D.; Costato, A. 2006. Duck harvest in the Po delta, Italy. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 864-865. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Steele, B. B.; Reitsma, L. R.; Racine, C. H.; Burson, S. L. III.; Stuart, R.; Theberge, R. 1997. Different susceptibilities to white phosphorous poisoning among five species of ducks. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 16(11): 2275-2282.

Vahatalo, A. V.; Rainio, K.; Lehikoinen, A.; Lehikoinen, E. 2004. Spring arrival of birds depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation. Journal of Avian Biology 35: 210-216.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Malpas, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Anas acuta. Downloaded from on 03/06/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 03/06/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Northern pintail (Anas acuta) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 28,400,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species