Sculpted

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I’ve always thought of the male eider as being the art deco duck, but the male pintail could make a good case for itself as well. I love these elegant creatures, with their long, sculpted back and tail feathers and two-tone bills, and I’m always happy when I get the chance to photograph them. I have to admit that they’re less svelte out of the water than in it, but my favourite shot of this drake is actually the photo I’ve added as the first extra, which is made by the curves of the head and tail, and the jazzy reflections. It would have been my main image, but for the mangling I suspect it would have received from Facebook and Twitter.

The second extra shows another drake who is still emerging from either juvenile or eclipse plumage, and hasn’t yet grown his full length back and tail feathers, or acquired the peach underwear of the main bird. The nice thing about this duck is that because his back feathers are shorter you can still see his speculum or wing flash, which is deep olive green, edged with chestnut on one side and white on the other.

The RSPB estimates a breeding population of pintails of less than forty pairs across the UK and Ireland, with even these small numbers falling over recent years. Over 30,000 birds winter here though; they fly in from Iceland, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and Russia after breeding and moulting, and gather in flocks on estuaries, wetlands and marshes. The pintail seems to be declining right across its range, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, though some of the blame has been placed on hunting. It’s protected during the breeding season, but nests on the ground, and its young are vulnerable to predation by mammals.