Northern Pintail

Anas acuta


Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Descriptions primarily from Smith (Smith 1968b) and Derrickson (Derrickson 1977); see Derrickson (Derrickson 1977) for sonograms of breeding adults.


Duckling calls include relatively quiet, repeated peep calls (Contentment Calls) given during feeding, bathing, preening, brooding, or rejoining brood after separation, and a loud repeated peep (Distress Call) given when cold, hungry, alarmed, or separated from parent or siblings.

Calls of males 7–16 wk old modify to wheezy whee, given singly or in series. At 18–20 wk, develop soft, flute-like trilled whistle, coinciding with first sexual behaviors oriented toward females. Calls of females at 7 wk are similar in tonal quality to those of adult females; kuk, given singly or in series, corresponds to whee of male; a squeal-like ke-ke-ke-ke noted in young females.

Vocal Array, Phenology, And Daily Pattern Of Vocalizing

Males. Most common call of adult males is whee, a wheezy train-whistle-like sound, given throughout the year in association with both threat and appeasement displays; also important in pair-bond reinforcement. As courtship begins on wintering grounds, males give a high-pitched Burp Call, ee hee or geeegee, followed by a loud, trilled whistle as part of the Burp Display (see Behavior: sexual behavior); can occur in flight or on the water; given all year except in Basic plumage and during wing molt. Burp Call is also associated with preflight behavior, signaling disturbance to conspecifics, or when separated from a mate; seems to be important in maintaining pair bonds. Trilled whistle is also given as part of the Grunt-whistle Display or postcopulatory Bridling Display (see Behavior: sexual behavior) or when suddenly alarmed.

Females. Most common call of adult female is variation of a short, low ke or kuk, given singly or in series; heard throughout the year in many situations. Kuk Call is associated with alert, preflight behaviors, Inciting Display (staccato kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk ... kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk....), Pursuit Flights (see Behavior: sexual behavior), and attack-escape postures. During courtship behavior and Repulsion Display (see Behavior: sexual behavior), rapid series of kak, ka, or gaak calls are given. During brooding, gives low frequency, quiet maternal calls, whimpering kee or k-ee notes, or louder more variable eeak or eek notes. Extended bouts of quacking (evenly spaced qua notes) given by female before and during the egg-laying period (Derrickson 1977); may function in detection, luring, and surveillance of predators by the female while in upland habitat (McKinney et al. 1990).

When disturbed, gives loud, harsh gaak, singly or in series, as Alarm Call; given throughout the year. Harsh 1- to 3-note Decrescendo Call (queeack or queeack-gak) is used when a pair is separated or in response to flying conspecifics; commonly preceded or followed by the Kuk Call. Most common at twilight and during fall, winter, and early spring when Northern Pintails are gregarious.

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Recommended Citation

Clark, R. G., J. P. Fleskes, K. L. Guyn, D. A. Haukos, J. E. Austin, and M. R. Miller (2014). Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.