Sleek and slender, it looks more like a drawing than a real dabbler. The drake’s plumage—smooth gray on the sides and upper back; jet black accents along a tail in sharp relief; a chocolate head, richer than Venezuelan cocoa couverture; pearly white breast plotted like a pointed lapel against the darker colors—is aesthetically simple and, for me at least, appealing.
North America, distinguishes this bird. Around 1,000 nest in Wisconsin each year, gracing the marshes and grasslands with a sartorial gravitas. The birds arrive early in the year, mid-March, hemming themselves along the shortgrass uplands relatively far from water, creating a runway from nest to wetlands where they dabble, court, and rest.
With the eclipse, the drakes molt a new plumage, decidedly less crisp, swapping layers—fashion for comfort. They also leave the hen to incubate the young and raise the newly hatched. If found in a Wisconsin fall, the bird will be moving south hurried by the cold gray winds and skies that stole its color. Think of the pin-up for waterfowl and you’ll see this bird, tailored in breeding plumage, the Northern Pintail.
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward
Photo by Rick Leche, Flickr Creative Commons