Northern Pintails feeding

Northern Pintails feeding

The word “duck” apparently comes from an old English word that means “to bend down” or “to duck under something” or “to dive”. These five Northern Pintails (Anas acuta) seem to fit the definition. The four males in the front are standing on their heads in a feeding action called “dabbling”.  The female Northern Pintail in the background is not dabbling, but rather demurely just poking her head and neck under the water.

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails

The female and one of the males has now tipped back up, and the striking markings on the male’s head can be seen.

A male Mallard and the same bird "dabbling" for food.

A male Mallard and the same bird “dabbling” for food.

The photograph above is a male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the same bird dabbling. Mallard are the most well-known ducks in North America, and perhaps the world. Almost all domesticated ducks have been bred from Mallards.

Ducks are quite a diverse group. There are 12 or 13 species of duck in North America (in addition to the Northern Pintail and the Mallard, that are placed in the group called “dabbling ducks” or “puddle ducks”,  These birds have their legs placed toward the middle of their body so they walk well on land. They are also powerful fliers, and can jump up directly from the water and fly away. Ducks of other types often have to run across the water to get into the air.


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