One of the most beautiful ducks on the Canadian Prairies is the northern pintail. With its slender, elegant neck and long, pointed tail, it’s no surprise that this species is a favourite among conservationists and bird watchers alike.
In the 1970s, Ducks Unlimited Canada, one of the largest and longest-standing conservation companies in North America, noticed pintail populations were declining, mainly due to habitat loss. Unlike most ducks that nest in grasslands, pintails will choose cropland and field stubble to raise their young.
Fast forward to the mid-90s and Ducks Unlimited Canada began digging deep into the potential of fall-planted crops like western Canadian winter wheat as a habitat-friendly option.
Based on their research, the conservation organization determines that ducks that nest in winter wheat are 24 times more successful than those who nest in spring-sown cereal crops. This is because field operations on farms are greatly reduced during peak nesting periods in the spring due to the fall-seeding nature of winter wheat. In the spring, when many farmers are out on their land planting their crops, winter wheat is already in the ground and growing, making it an attractive, tractor-free, green blanket for ducks and other birds to build a nest.
A study in Alberta by the Canadian Wildlife Service shows that winter wheat provides habitat to several other grassland songbirds including horned larks, savannah sparrows and chestnut-collared longspurs. Ducks Unlimited Canada has also noticed another grassland bird and species of concern – the long-billed curlew – nesting outside native prairie and in winter wheat fields.
Because of these benefits to wildlife, Ducks Unlimited Canada has championed and worked with farmers in Western Canada to sustainably grow winter wheat for almost 30 years.
Amazing facts about pintail ducks
- This beautiful dabbling duck ranges over more of the earth than any other waterfowl.
- The oldest male pintail recorded in the wild was 21 years and 4 months old. The bird was banded in California and recovered in Idaho.
- A pintail skeleton was found at 16,400 feet on the Khumbu Glacier during the 1952 expedition to Mt. Everest.