September 18, 2008

Strike a Pose

So, a couple posts ago we discussed the misprinted federal Duck Stamp, which I am now referring to as the “Tramp Stamp” (thanks, Rachel, for coming up with that). While the Tramp Stamp made me cringe as an editor, it also made me excited as a proud Bird Geek to tell you about the beautiful bird it features.

Your BOTW is the northern pintail.

Fact: Some of the Web sites I read this week said the northern pintail was “the greyhound of the air.” That’s nice, I suppose, but I think “the supermodel of the marsh” is more appropriate. Take a look at your field guide (you've all got one, right?) and you’ll see words like “lean, graceful silhouette,” “long, slender neck,” and “distinctive coloring.” Even its name evokes a nonexistent rear end. (Like all good supermodels, I’m sure pintails swear they LOVE to eat.)
Fact: The male northern pintail sports a chocolate brown head, white neck and underparts, and very long central tail feathers that look like a sharp little point extending from its black rear end. Hence the name pintail.
Fact: While the female pintail got screwed as usual in the coloring department (brown with more brown), she does sport the beautiful pintail shape, minus the extra-long tail.
Fact: The northern pintail eats grain, seeds, weeds, aquatic insects, and crustaceans (especially during breeding season). It picks food from the ground and also feeds on the surface of the water.
Fact: The northern pintail will also upend itself in shallow water to reach food on the bottom. I think the pintail boasts two advantages over competitors (aka mallards) in this arena: Its long neck helps it reach food in deeper waters. And its fabulous pintail looks so much better for what is basically a butt shot. (For an example of a not-so-fabulous butt shot, please refer to the video of me chasing geese.)
Fact: The Great Salt Lake has one of the world’s largest wintering colonies of northern pintails. You can look for them while driving a quiet 55 mph on Legacy Highway.
Fact: Pintails are one of the first ducks to arrive on breeding grounds in the spring. They breed throughout Alaska and Canada. They actually form pairs, though, during the fall and winter before they reach the breeding grounds. So, we'll probably have pintails hooking up right here in Utah soon. Ahh.
Fact: Pairs are often formed through long “chase” displays. One or sometimes an entire group of males will chase in flight after an unattached female. Whichever male refuses to give up the chase wins.
Fact: The act of copulation generally takes place on water. The male swims up behind his mate and bites her neck feathers to hold on.
Fact: While doing research for this piece, I learned about “forced copulation,” which is rather common in pintails and other ducks. Forced copulation is basically just like it sounds, but it usually takes place on land instead of water. Different kinds of ducks are known for doing it to each other. Biologists speculate forced copulation might be one of the reasons there are so many weird duck hybrids out there.
Fact: Once on the breeding grounds, the female will scrape out a nest bowl in the dirt. She does this by dropping on her breast and pivoting in a circle while scraping her feet. I’d like to see Kate Moss do that!
Fact: Dear old dad does not stick around to help incubate the eggs or see them hatch. But as the supermodel of the marsh, he probably has more important things to do.

This has been Your BOTW.

picture: Wikimedia Commons
Second picture: Flickr


doug said...

Ahem, according to the Utah Department Of Transportation, it's the "Legacy PARKWAY." And please observe the posted speed limit, for the sanity of the birds. And me.

I like how the pintails usually eat crustaceans during breeding season. Someone should tell them about chocolate-covered strawberries, in case clams and oysters get old.

Patrick said...

I don't even know where to start with this one so:

1) Do the pintails also use a little blow to keep them going through those long photo shoots and afterparties?

2) Do they eat crustaceans because they are an aphrodesiac?

3) Isn't forced copulation another term for rape? "Geez officer, it was just forced copulation!"

Mean Amy said...

I just appreciate how sophisticated these birds are. Much more so than those dumpy hummingbirds.

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