Northern Pintail Anas acuta


Justification of Red List Category
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.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 7,100,000-7,200,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015).  The European population is estimated at 210,000-269,000 pairs, which equates to 419,000-539,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).

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]) and in 2015 the population was estimated to be 24% below the 1955-2014 long-term average (Zimpfer et al. 2015).  In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by less than 25% in 20.4 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).


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).


Pintail are 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).  Over-exploitation is a concern in Europe (Kear 2005b).  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).  Pintail are predated by feral cats Felis catus and rats Rattus norvegicus on islands (del Hoyo et al. 1992), and the species 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 for sport widely across its range; for example in North America (Baldassarre and Bolen 1994, Schmidt 2006). Denmark (Bregnballe et al. 2006) and the Po delta, Italy (Sorrenti et al. 2006), and it is also 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).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. EU Birds Directive Annex II and III.  The following information refers to the European range of this species only: An EU management plan for the species was published in 2007.  Important sites for the species are protected in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, U.K., Spain, Portugal and Greece (Jensen 2007). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
The following information refers to the European range of this species only: Hunting of this species should be banned during migration and at the end of the breeding season and annual data on bag numbers should be collected for all countries where the species is hunted.  Breeding sites should be identified, preserved and managed to increase reproductive success and colonising ability and all internationally important staging and wintering sites should be designated as SPAs and managed favourably.  Censusing of winter populations and breeding populations, to provide an assessment of breeding productivity, should be carried out annually.  Ringing on breeding and wintering sites should also be carried out and existing ringing data analysed to identify population units and provide annual estimates of mortality (Jensen 2007).


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

Dowsett, R.J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Anas acuta. Downloaded from on 19/09/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 19/09/2019.