Wednesday 16 April 2014

Mallard x Northern Pintail

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, Trelleborg (Sweden), 8th February 2012 - copyright Carl Gunnar Gustavsson
(photo ID: 0929)

A distinctive and rather beautiful hybrid which occurs naturally in Europe and North America (presumably also in Asia).  The appearance of this individual is typical but Carl Gunnar notes that most of the time it was difficult to see the vertical white line on the neck.  The back seemed to be a little bit darker than Mallard and the bird was a little bit smaller.  Among Mallards it usually was the paler breast that gave it away.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (same bird as in photo ID 0929 above), Trelleborg (Sweden), 8th February 2012 - copyright Carl Gunnar Gustavsson
(photo IDs: 0927-0928)

The next two shots show how the light affects the colour on the head.  The head looks green in the first shot taken at 1.56 pm with the Sun high but in the next one, taken when the Sun was going down two hours later, the head looks purple-brown, giving it a more Pintail-like appearance.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (same bird as in photo IDs 0927-0929 above), Sweden, 10th February 2012 - copyright Carl Gunnar Gustavsson
(photo IDs: 0925-0926)

Carl Gunnar was fortunate to see a second bird later the same week!  He describes how the white on the neck didn't extend as high up as in the first one, the bill had a yellowish tinge and a different black pattern, it has no paler mid rib in the brownish breast and is not as white below. Apparently it gave a wheezing sound HZZZZ before it attacked male Mallards, which it did rather often.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, Malm√∂ (Sweden), 13th February 2012 - copyright Carl Gunnar Gustavsson
(photo IDs: 0923-0924)

Females are less often identified but that seems to be the best explanation for what we have next.  Cathy writes:
"Size was SLIGHTLY smaller than the female Mallards.  Obvious green speculum feathers (where a female mallards are normally blue), bill blue, legs an interesting pink.  Feather edging an the back an interesting cinnamon tone.

Obvious candidate is Green-winged Teal, however outside of the green speculum I am not sure it fits. I would expect more size difference from mallards if this were one of the parents.  Also the tail is very brightly marked and central feathers appear slightly longer.  Northern Pintail seems the more likely candidate considered with the chestnut edged scapulars, size, and general shape.  Green speculum is found on male Northern Pintail, but in females is more bronze, however when mixed with the Mallard iridescence I am not sure a green speculum is out of the realm of possibility."

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with Mallards), Utah Park, Aurora (Colorado, USA), 20th January 2013 - copyright Cathy Sheeter
(photo IDs: 1873-1878)

Another very similar female next up.  This was at a site frequented by birds released for shooting, especially Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail.  Numerous hybrids have turned up here and it's likely that these were also released.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with drake Northern Pintail), Leathes Ham, Lowestoft (Suffolk, UK), 16th February 2011 - copyright Andrew Easton
(photo IDs: 2073-2074)

The next bird was discovered by Justin Lansdell and I'm grateful to him and to James Emerson for letting me know about its continued presence.  It is unusual for showing reddish brown on the scapulars and flanks, not a feature normally associated with either parent species (a little brown may be present on the lower scapulars of Mallard and also on hybrids, but not as much as on this bird).  However some domestic forms of Mallard can show this (including on one bird present in the same group of Mallards that this was associating with), so I imagine that the Mallard parent was one such domestic variant.  This bird was still present in the area (typically across the river at Thorpe) into 2017.

Mallard (probably a domestic variant) x Northern Pintail hybrid, Whitlingham Country Park, Trowse (Norfolk, UK), 6th December 2015 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo IDs: 2398-2402)

I initially wondered if the next bird could simply be a Pintail with a stained breast.  But it looks too much like a washed-out version of Mallard x Pintail hybrids' breast colour for comfort, and then I noticed a slight upward curl in the central tail feather (or elongated upper tail covert).  It is nevertheless far more Pintail-like than most such hybrids, so I presumed it to be a backcrossed bird.  A scattering of immature-like feathers were present, so presumably a first-winter bird - many of the birds in this recently re-stocked collection were young birds.

captive possible (Mallard x Northern Pintail) x Northern Pintail backcrossed hybrid, Blakeney Collection (Norfolk, UK), 30th October 2015 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo IDs: 2403-2408)

Naturally this bird had matured a bit by late December, losing its immature flank feathers and wing-coverts.  The centrail tail feathers (or more correctly I think, upper-tail-coverts) had grown but turn up away from the tail slightly and are well separated (only apparent in the third photo below, and to a lesser extent the first).

captive possible (Mallard x Northern Pintail) x Northern Pintail backcrossed hybrid (with Red-crested Pochard), Blakeney Collection (Norfolk, UK), 23rd December 2015 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo IDs: 2424-2426)

By the end of February the tail was fully grown.  Still with a very slight upcurve, but perhaps not too much for a pure Pintail.  And the breast colour seemed paler than before too.  I'm now starting to have doubts about whether this is a hybrid at all, rather than just a Pintail with a stained breast.  There are two other drake Pintails in the collection that don't have stained breasts, and a backcrossed hybrid could still be in the frame, but I'm not as confident as I was.

captive possible (Mallard x Northern Pintail) x Northern Pintail backcrossed hybrid, Blakeney Collection (Norfolk, UK), 27th February 2016 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo ID: 2743)

Henry notes the Pintail-like wings on the next bird, and that the head colour changed from bronze to green (though never as green as on Mallard)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with Mallards), Vantaa (Finland), 2nd February 2013 - copyright Henry Lehto
(photo IDs: 2568-2574)

For his next bird Henry also notes Pintail-like wings, though with an intermediate speculum.  The head lacked any green shine except in the most optimal light conditions, such as in the last photo.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with Mallards), Kaarina (Finland), 10th June 2010 - copyright Henry Lehto
(photo IDs: 2587-2590)

There are a disporportionately large number of photos of this hybrid on the internet that were taken at Reifel or elsewhere in the Vancouver area.  Not sure if that's just because it's a popular place for bird photographers and there happen to have been 2-3 tame birds there, or if it's genuinely a good area to see this hybrid.

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with Mallard), Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), April 2008 - copyright Rasmus Strack
(photo IDs: 2757-2758)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, S Platte River, Denver, Adams County (Colorado, USA), 29th December 2012 - copyright Steve Mlodinow 
(photo IDs: 1236-1238)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, Duck Lake, Larimer County (Colorado, USA), 19th March 2011 - copyright Steve Mlodinow 
(photo ID: 1438)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, Fred Warren Pond, North Lewiston, Nez Perce county (Idaho, USA), 18th March 2013 - copyright Keith Carlson
(photo ID: 2017)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, Copenhagen (Denmark), 18th February 2009 - copyright Lars Michael Nelson
(photo IDs: 0870-0877)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid, near Behrens Reservoir, Weld County (Colorado, USA), 28th November 2014 - copyright Steve Mlodinow 
(photo ID: 1692)

The next one must have involved a domestic variant of Mallard, presumably one of those that lacks the reddish breast.  Note that in the third photo there is a second bird hidden behind which, judging from the tail, is also a Mallard x Pintail hybrid.  That bird shows additional white on the chin and throat (and a little at the bottom rear of the ear-coverts) in a pattern that is often found on domestic Mallards.

domestic Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrids, River Loxley Millpond, Sheffield (South Yorkshire, UK), 23rd March 2015 - copyright Philip Ridsdale 
(photo IDs: 3099-3101)

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid (with Green-winged Teal, left, and 2 Mallards, right), Baldridge Estates, Severance, Weld County (Colorado, USA), 25th March 2017 - copyright Steve Mlodinow 
(photo ID: 3189)

Joern Lehmhus has written about Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrids in the German magazine Aves.  The text is in German but non-German speakers may still be interested as it's accompanied by several photos of Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrids.  You can access the PDF of Aves 2 (2011) - scroll down to page 21.  The four photos labelled Abb. 1 to Abb. 4 are Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrids. Note that the Mallard parent of the bird in the photo labelled Abb. 1 is one of the smaller domestic forms.  The straight neck-collar of the bird in the photo labelled Abb. 2 is atypical.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Pintail Anas acuta

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this. I rescue the mallard hybrid pintail