The elegant clipper-built pintail is at once conspicuous by his .racing lines among all our ducks, his long neck and long sharp tail making him conspicuous either in the air or on the water. His colouring is chiefly remarkable for the large amount of white, this reaching below from the liver-brown head to the black stern ; the upper-parts are of the finely lined grey so common among the males of the duck tribe.
The female, having a much shorter, though still pointed, tail, and the usual mottled brown plumage of typical ducks of her sex, is less easily recognizable, but she is recognizable on close inspection by having the tail feathers marked with light and dark cross-bars, instead of light-edged and dark-centred as usual, and by having either no wing-bar at all or one, like the drake's, of the unusual tint of bronze.
The drake in undress has at first a very feminine aspect, but his tail, though short, is still darker than the female's, and his plumage is rather cross-barred than mottled with curved markings. Pintail weigh about a couple of pounds in the case of drakes, ducks being about half a pound less.
They are among the most valued sporting birds in India, coming in vast numbers every winter, and spreading all over the Empire ; the flocks are seldom under twenty in number, and generally contain two or three times' that number of birds, while hundreds and even thousands may be found together. Although so sociable, in some cases flocks may be found consisting of drakes alone. They like large pieces of open water with plenty of surface weed for their day-time rest, and keep a good look-out, being naturally wary; they do not move till well on in the evening, and then go out to feed in all sorts of watery places, returning at daybreak to their resting-places. They fly, as might be expected, from their slender shape, with very great speed, and are considered to be the swiftest of all the tribe. The sound of a flock passing is described by Hume as a " low, soft, hissing swish," which is quite unmistakable. On the other hand, their swimming and walking powers are but ordinary, and they dive badly. Their long necks are of great service to them in feeding on the bottom with the stem up, and also in reaching up to pull down paddy-ears, for they do not disdain vegetable food, although chiefly animal feeders, especially eating shell-fish ; this, however, does not give them an unpleasant flavour, and, as a matter of fact, few ducks are so uniformly good.
In general disposition they are placid, rather characterless birds; they are not even noisy, the drake's note being singularly soft and subdued, and very hard to describe ; the duck's quack is harsher than that of the mallard or spotted-bill, but she very, seldom utters it. The drake when courting shows off like the mallard, but is rarely seen to do so. In fact, though as a sporting bird the pintail is unrivalled among the ducks, and has few equals among other groups, from the naturalist's point of view he is disappointing, in spite of his elegant and refined appearance.
Pintail, like mallard, are found all round the world, but only breed in high northern latitudes as a rule; wild-bred hybrids with the mallard sometimes occur, but such have never turned up in India. These much resemble rather delicately shaped and tinted mallard, but have the tail only curved, not curled, the head less richly glossed, and the breast light-fawn, not chocolate. This hybrid, by the way, is quite fertile in captivity.
In Bengal pintail are called Dighans or Sho-lon-cho; in Sind Kokarali or Drighush; Digunch in Nepal and Laitunga in Manipur, while another Hindustani name besides Sink-par is Sank.