A small, attractive duck with a pointed tail, the white-cheeked pintail is readily identified by the pure white cheeks for which it is named. The white extends onto the throat and upper part of the neck, and contrasts with the mottled brown crown and the bright red base to the otherwise dark beak. The rest of the body is a warm reddish-brown, spotted black, and is darker on the back, with reddish-buff edges to the feathers. The tail is whitish or buff, and there is a bright green, iridescent patch (the ‘speculum’), bordered in cinnamon-buff, on the wing (3)(4)(5). The eyes are dark brown, and the feet and legs are grey (3)(4).
The male and female white-cheeked pintail are similar in appearance, although the female tends to be smaller and slightly duller, with a shorter tail. Juveniles resemble the female, but are duller and have a less iridescent speculum (2)(3). Males call with a low whistling, while females give a weak quack (3)(5). The white-cheeked pintail is divided into three subspecies: Anas bahamensis rubrirostris (greater white-cheeked pintail) is larger, brighter and darker than Anas bahamensis bahamensis (lesser white-cheeked pintail), while Anas bahamensis galapagensis (Galapagos pintail) is smaller and duller, with grey flecks in the white cheeks and throat (2)(3)(4).
The white-cheeked pintail forages by head-dipping, upending and diving in shallow water, feeding mainly on plant material such as grasses and the seeds, buds, leaves and stems of aquatic plants, but also sometimes taking animal matter, such as aquatic invertebrates(2)(7)(8). Small flocks sometimes form (5)(8), and when food is abundant larger groups of up to 1,000 are occasionally seen (7). Although some populations of white-cheeked pintails are non-migratory, the subspeciesA. b. rubrirostris disperses outside its breeding range outside of the nesting season (2)(3)(8).
The breeding season of the white-cheeked pintail is very variable, depending mainly on water levels (2)(8)(9). Nesting occurs in single pairs or in loose groups, the nest usually being built on the ground near water, amongst thick vegetation (2)(8). Although usually monogamous, some male white-cheeked pintails may mate with more than one female (9). Between 5 and 12 creamy-white to buff eggs are laid, hatching after around 25 days (2)(8), and the female provides all the parental care (9), often leading the newly-hatched ducklings to protected areas of water that may be some distance from the nest. The ducklings are able to dive to escape predators, and ducklings from different broods may sometimes join together to form larger groups. White-cheeked pintails fledge at 45 to 60 days, may breed at a year old, and have been recorded living up to 14 years (8).
The white-cheeked pintail is widely but patchily distributed throughout South America and the Caribbean (4)(5)(6)(7). A. b. bahamensis occurs through the Caribbean and West Indies to northern South America, as well as sometimes in Florida, USA, while A. b. rubrirostris occurs from eastern Bolivia and southern Brazil, south to Uruguay and Argentina, and occasionally on the Falkland Islands (2)(3)(4)(8). A. b. galapagensis, as its name suggests, is restricted to the Galapagos Islands (2)(3)(8), where it is the only endemic duck species (3).
This species inhabits mangrove swamps, estuaries, small saline (salty) or brackish pools, and coastal lagoons. It may be less common on freshwater lakes and ponds (2)(3)(4)(5)(7)(8). The white-cheeked pintail occurs up to elevations of around 2,500 metres or more in the Andes (2)(3).
The white-cheeked pintail has a wide distribution and relatively large population, and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (6). However, some declines have been noted, mainly due to hunting and the loss of wetland habitats. Introduced mammalian predators may also be a threat in some island locations, potentially reducing nesting success in the Galapagos and in parts of the Caribbean (2)(3)(8).
There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently targeted at this relatively common duck. However, some populations, such as that of the subspeciesA. g. galapagensis, may benefit from further survey work (3).
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