Sunday Duck O’ The Week

John Avise, an evolutionary biologist at UC Irvine, has offered to help us pass the pandemic by getting educated about the ducks of North America. Thus every Sunday (and this has gone on for a while, and will continue), John will put up some photos of a “local” duck, and your job is to guess the species. If you can’t, you can see the ID, some duck facts, and a range map below the fold.

And here’s this week’s handsome duck, with John’s encomium:

This week’s lovely duck (eight photos and my brief commentary) neatly fits a dictionary’s definition of “gracile”: slender or slim, especially in a charming or attractive way.

Do you know this species? Click “read more” for the answer and additional information.

Answer: Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

The long pointed tail of the drake gives this species its name (the hen has a pointy tail too, but it’s less exaggerated).  This is perhaps the most lithe and elegant of the “puddle ducks” or “dabbling ducks” in North America, and when in “tip-up” mode its long tail is especially evident (see photo).  In flight, the birds show a green speculum bordered in front and back by stripes of orange and white, respectively. Note also the drake’s distinctive two-toned (blue and black) bill.

This species splits its time on the continent, breeding in ponds across the northern half of this landmass and wintering across its southern half.

Here’s a range map from the Cornell bird site, with a pretty sharp demarcation between breeding and overwintering sites.



  1. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 14, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Those are lovely ducks. I like the tan palette.

  2. Posted June 14, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Great pictures!

  3. rickflick
    Posted June 14, 2020 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    The male is easy to ID. Great looking duck!

  4. Steve Gerrard
    Posted June 14, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Lovely ducks. The blue on the male beak seems to vary quite a bit from light to dark. Is that the photos or the lighting, or is that different ducks?

    • john avise
      Posted June 14, 2020 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      There are different ducks in these photos, so I suspect it’s some combination of natural inter-individual variation and variable lighting conditions.

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