US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Auk 119(2):498–506, 2002.


We evaluated spatiotemporal variation in clutch sizes of Northern Pintails (pintails; Anas acuta) nesting in California (1985 to 1996), North Dakota (1982 to 1985), Saskatchewan (1982 to 1985) and Alaska (1991 to 1993) to determine whether seasonal declines in clutch size varied in ways that were consistent with a controlling influence of increasing day length. Pintails began nesting in mid-March in California, mid-April in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, and mid-May in Alaska. Observed durations of nesting were 70 ± 2.6 days (SE) in California, 60 ± 6.3 days in North Dakota, 66 ± 1.3 days in Saskatchewan, and 42 ± 0.7 days in Alaska. Annual differences were the principal source of variation in mean clutch sizes (σY2 = 0.15, SE = 0.049), which varied little among study locations (σA2 = 0.002, SE = 0.013). Predicted rates of seasonal decline in clutch sizes increased with latitude early in the nesting season, but declined as the nesting season progressed, except in California. Rates of decline in clutch sizes thus were not directly related to rates of increase in day length. Predicted declines in numbers of eggs per clutch over the nesting season were similar for all four locations (range, 3.05–3.12) despite wide variation in durations of nesting. Evidence suggests that reduced nutrient availability during nesting contributes to a higher rate of decline in clutch sizes in Alaska than in temperate regions. Pintails that nest early lay large initial clutches, but thereafter clutch sizes decline rapidly and breeding terminates early. This reproductive strategy is adaptive because young that hatch earliest exhibit the highest survival rates; however, the conversion of grassland to cropland on the primary prairie breeding grounds has reduced hatching rates of clutches laid early in the nesting season. Under these conditions, the limited capacity to renest in late spring on their prairie breeding grounds probably has contributed to Pintail population declines.