Northern Pintail




The Northern Pintail, and all ducks in general, have many adaptations that make them so successful. They have developed certain traits to help them with:

Of course the obvious adaptations for flight would be wings and feathers. There are two types of feathers on the wings of ducks: the primary feathers that provide thrust when flying and the secondary feathers that help create lift due to  their specialized shape. If you've ever been near a bird you know that the feathers are smooth on top, allowing for the most efficient airflow over their bodies making them more efficient flyers. Another well known adaptation is the bone structure of birds. Their bones are hollow creating a huge reduction in weight while still providing necessary support via honeycomb-like support structures. Where humans have a sternum, ducks (and birds in general) have a large structure called a keel that allows a place for the giant breast muscles needed for flying to attach.

Pintails go on extensive migrations and therefore need a lot of oxygen supplied to these muscles. In order to do so birds have a respiratory tract unrivaled by any other organism. When a bird inhales air moves into specialized structures call air sacks. During inhalation the fresh air goes into the posterior air sacks while the stale air moves from the lungs to the anterior air sacks. Then when the bird exhales air moves from the posterior air sacks to the lungs and the stale air moves out of the anterior air sacks. This is combined with a strong four chambered heart that pumps oxygenated blood to the body and deoxygenated blood to the lungs, very similar to the human heart, to make an incredibly efficient circulatory and respiratory system that allows them to withstand the rigors of long migratory flights.

The mouth of dabbling ducks are quite extraordinary. The edges of the bill are soft and are used to feel for food as they dip under the water surface. At the end of the bill is a nail that they use to manipulate their food. Ducks have an upper and lower mandible and are very similar to the structure of the human jaw where the mandible (lower mandible in the ducks) moves up and down while the upper part of the mouth is attached to the skeleton and fixated in place. However instead of having teeth, ducks have lamellae that filter things like mud out so that only the food finds its way into the stomach. The mandibles of dabbling ducks usually have about 50 to 70 of the comb-like structures on each. Combine this with the especially long neck of the Northern Pintail and you can start to see why it is such an efficient forager.