Birds - Pintail
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also: SPRIGTAIL ; WINTER DUCK
Length—Male, 25 to 30 inches, according to development of tail. Female, 22 inches.
Male—Head and throat rich olive brown, glossed with green and purple; blackish on back of neck; two white lines, beginning at the crown, border the blackish space, and become lost in the white of the breast and under parts. Underneath faintly, the sides more strongly, and the back heavily marked with waving black lines; back darkest; shoulders black; wing coverts brownish gray, the greater ones tipped with reddish brown; speculum or wing patch purplish green; central tail feathers very long and greenish black. Bill and feet slate colored.
Female—Tail shorter, but with central feathers sharply pointed. Upper parts mottled gray and yellowish and dark brown; breast pale yellow brown freckled with dusky; whitish beneath, the sides marked with black and white; only traces of the speculum in green spots on brown area of wing; tail with oblique bars. In nesting-plumage the drake resembles the female except that his wing markings remain unchanged.
Range—North America at large, nesting north of Illinois to the Arctic Ocean; winters from central part of the United States southward to Panama and West Indies.
Season—Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, or more rarely a winter visitor, in the northern part of the United States; a winter resident in the south.
No one could possibly mistake the long-tailed drake in fall plumage for any other species; but the tyro who would not confound his dusky mate with several other obscure looking ducks, must take note of her lead colored bill and legs, broad, sharply pointed tail feathers, and dusky under wing coverts. The pintails carry themselves with a stately elegance that faintly suggests the ,coming swan. Their necks, which are unusually long and slender for a duck; their well poised heads and trim, long bodies, unlike the squat figure of some of their kindred; their sharp wings and pointed tails, give them both dignity and grace in the air, on the land, or in the water, for they appear equally at home in the three elements.
But of such charms as they possess they are exceedingly chary. In the wet prairie lands and grass-grown, shallow waters which they delight in, hunters find these birds the first to take alarm—troublesomely vigilant, noisy chatterers, with a very small bump of curiosity that discourages tolling or decoys; nervous and easily panicstricken. At the first crack of the gun they shoot upward in a confused, struggling mass that gives all too good a chance for a pot shot. If they had learned to scatter them-selves in all directions, to dive under water or into the dense sedges when alarmed, as some ducks do, there would be many more pintails alive to-day; but usually they practise none of these protections. There are men living who recall the times, never to return, when ducks resorted literally by the million to the Kankakee and the Calumet regions; and pintails in countless multitudes swelled the hordes that thronged out of the north in the autumn migration. In spite of their enormous fertility, their strong, rapid flight, their swimming and diving powers, their shyness and readiness to take alarm—in spite of the lavish protection that nature has given them, and of their economic value to man—there are great tracts of country where these once abundant game birds have been hunted to extinction.
From the west and the north sportsmen follow the ducks into the lower Mississippi Valley region and our southern sea-board states, where the majority winter. Widgeons and black ducks often associate with them there. The canvasback, the redhead, the black duck, the teals, and the mallard, while counted greater delicacies, by no means attract the exclusive attention of the pot hunter when pintails are in sight. Given a good cook and a young, fat, tender duck, even Macaulay's school-boy could tell the result.
It is an amusing sight to see a flock of drakes feeding in autumn, when they chiefly live apart by themselves. Tipping the fore part of their bodies downward while, with their long necks distended, they probe the muddy bottoms of the lake for the vegetable matter and low animal forms they feed upon, their long tails stand erect above the surface, like so many bulrushes growing in the water. They seem able to stand on their heads in this fashion indefinitely; a spasmodic working of their feet in the air from time to time testifying only to the difficulty a bird may be having to loosen some much desired root.
From eight to twelve yellowish olive or pale greenish white eggs are laid near the water, but in dry, grassy land, where the mother, who bears all the family cares, forms a slight depression in the soil, under some protecting bush, if may be, and lines it with feathers from her breast.