As many of my readers know, after work I often go to Bluffers Park to see the swans, ducks, geese, and even the various types of gulls. On one particular day there were 30-plus Trumpeter Swans, a few Mute Swans, and even one special little cygnet (baby swan) I’ve taken to calling Coral. With a handful of corn I wandered around the icy paths, enjoying a beautiful day feeding the birds by the water. As I walked around, the ducks were the first to come flying in, looking for a free lunch. There were Mallards, Black Ducks, Golden eyes and Buffleheads.
One day became interesting when I noticed, in the middle of the mass of ducks, one very special visitor. He stood out with his blue-gray bill, elegant neck and long tail. These features belong to the Northern Pintail (Anas Acuta). While I have seen a handful over my years of birding, I hadn’t seen one so close, and never on land. (I have still never seen a female Northern Pintail).
The Pintail’s head is mostly brown but has a tad of green on the sides – you might only see it in the right sunlight. The feather detail on their backs and tails is stunning, like a masterwork painting, and the bird’s long neck accentuates a lovely white belly capped with a white stripe up the side of the head – a truly stunning bird.
The Northern Pintail is a dabbling duck (they feed at the surface instead of diving for their food), and you will most likely see one in shallow ponds, where it skims the water surface with its bill. Don’t be surprised to see one with its tail straight up above the water, paddling its feet for balance while it stretches out its neck digging for food on the bottom of the pond.
The Pintail is a medium-sized duck, approximately 21–29 inches long (51–76 cm). The male makes wheezy-mewing notes and a whistle, while the females quack. An interesting fact is that the Northern Pintail can leap from the water and launch directly into flight. I imagine they must laugh to themselves while watching the ducks, loons and geese who have to run on the water to take off.
If you have the time, stop by at Bluffers Park and check out all the water birds. At the end of the day the swans swim in towards the docks where they are fed by volunteers of the Trumpeter Swan Association. Please do not ever feed bread to any of the ducks or swans. It is potentially dangerous to them and has no nutritional value.