What Is a Bull Sprig? Everything You Need To Know

For a person who is just fascinated by birds, many birds may look exactly alike and they just cannot be blamed. There are many birds that really look very similar. For instance, different types of ducks look so alike though they are actually different.

To a person who is really zealous and passionate about birds, being able to identify the different types is of paramount importance. With the hunters, it is essential to know the difference as they have to comply with the rules and regulations regarding wildlife conservation.

Among all these hunters, the people who hunt ducks use the term ‘bull sprig’ pretty often and this must-have set you wondering what it means. Well, this term is used to refer to an adult of the northern pintail species of ducks. They are also called Anas acuta. The names were given to any animal species always come with a reason for the name and this name also is no exception.

These birds are well known for their admirable elegance and swiftness just as the greyhounds are. Since their elegance and swiftness are displayed in the air, they are rightly called “Greyhounds of the air”.  Their beauty is all the more evident when they move around in huge numbers when they migrate from one place to another.

Differentiating the bull sprigs from the other ducks is not at all difficult and all it needs is the knowledge about what to look for.

What Is a Bull Sprig ?

The name bull sprig is another term for a mature pintail. The word “bull” indicates the maturity and the gender of the concerned birds. This is related to how the term “bull” is usually used. Normally, it refers to the mature male animal of any species.

The term “sprig” has its origin in the appearance of the tail of the northern pintails which look a lot like vegetation.

What Is a Young Pintail Duck Called?

Bull sprig refers only to mature male pintails, then what are the younger ones called? Before they become mature these young male pintails are always referred to as sprigs or ducklings.

What Is a Female Pintail Called ?

The females of the northern pintails also have a special name that is in no way related to the word bulls. They are named “hen sprigs”.

How to Identify a Bull Sprig?

The first step in the process of identifying a bull sprig duck is to be able to tell pintails from the other species of ducks. The following explanation will help you do that.

How Pintail Ducks Look Like?

bull sprig

The northern pintails are not small birds. However, they are rather slender and lengthy. They can measure easily up to 21 to 25 inches in length. Their necks are quite lengthy and the width of their necks is around 35 inches.

There is generally a difference in the weight of the male and the female birds of the species. The males weigh about 2.2 pounds and the females weigh around 1.8 pounds.

Author Note: The most characteristic feature of the pintails is what helps us to differentiate them easily from the other species. We are talking about their tails which are their most conspicuous feature. Out of the total length of the bird, a whopping 6.25 inches is the tail alone.

There is another very important feature that helps in identifying them. They have extremely long feathers right in the center of the tail. This makes the tail look like a stem with leaves and thus the name “spring”.

Bull Sprigs vs Hen Sprigs: What Is the Difference?

Now that differentiating the bull sprigs from the other species is clear, we need to also look at how to identify the male and the female of the species. Both the genders have some very prominent features which help us tell them apart.

  • Bills: The bills of the pintails are normally a dark shade of brown. At times, they are even black. In the case of mature males, the bills have light blue markings on either side.
  • Head: There is a difference in the color of the heads of the males and the females of the species. As far as the females are concerned, they have tan and plain heads. The heads of the males are completely different as they have a color that is similar to chocolate on their heads. They also have two distinctive white streaks on the side.
  • Wing markings: The color of the wings of the bull sprigs is another identifying feature. These males have a tinge of green in their wing feathers. This green is very evident when the birds take flight, especially during the season when they mate.
  • Plumage: The males of the species are covered by a thick layer of feathers over them whereas the females do not have so many feathers.

They have a thinner layer of feathers covering them. Their feathers are also more delicate than that of the males.

  • Sound: The sounds that the two genders make also help us draw a distinction between them. The sound made by the hen sprigs is a lot like the quacking of any other species of duck. However, the bull sprigs make a very different sound. They make a two-tone whistling sound. So, it is actually very easy to tell the gender apart using this.

Where Do Bull Sprigs Live?

There is a strong indication in the name of the northern pintails about the place where they are normally found. They are spotted in the northern hemisphere, more importantly in North America, Europe, and also some areas of Asia.

These birds like to flock together near water bodies be it a lake or an ocean. In order to nest, they always choose huge green areas.

What is the Life Span of Bull Sprigs?

There is no difference in the life span of the two genders of these birds. Both the male and the female live for an average of about 22 years when they are in their natural habitat. When they live in captivity, they can live longer too.

Having these birds in conservatories is not a good idea as migrating long distances is very important to them. This is because their whole breeding cycle depends on their migration.

What Is a Pintail’s Breeding Cycle Like?

The breeding period of the pintails depends a lot on their migration. The breeding season usually is between late winter and spring. During this time, the bull sprigs mate with a hen sprig each.

This happens either before or after migration.  After the mating is over, they head to another place to make their nests and lay eggs. They go to the north for the next phase. These are birds that do not make their nests high up on trees. Instead, the hen sprigs are fond of nests on the ground.

They choose only places that are completely open. However, the nests are always near water bodies. They are either very close to a water body or only up to a mile and a half away. Their nests are quite different from the nests of other species of ducks. The other ducks make nests in hidden, secure areas whereas the pintail nests are not covered much.

The males of the species do not play a role in nest building or incubating the eggs. All this is the responsibility of the female hen sprigs. Around 6 to 12 eggs are laid and the incubation period is 22 days after which they hatch.

The young ones depend on their parents for a period of one and a half months after which they are all set to fly out on their own. In fact, they are part of the flock that migrates to the south in the month of February. Unfortunately, all the young ones do not survive long enough to see the breeding season.

Author Note: Once the eggs hatch, the hen sprig leads them into the feeding areas. The ducklings (only a few hours old) can then feed themselves.

What Do Bull Sprigs Eat?

The diet of the pintails is varied and as a result, they come under the omnivorous type. They enjoy both vegetation and also little fish from water bodies that are not very deep.

They are birds that can dive into the water and when they do this, they take out their food from the water that is muddy. This is called dabbling and does not happen during the day. It is done at night.

The vegetation that they eat includes plants and seeds found on the ground. The young ones also include insects in their diet.

What Is So Unique About Northern Pintails?

Though all pintails are very attractive, the males or the bull sprigs are extremely showy and flashy birds that are wonderful to look at. But, this is not all that is there to appreciate about the Anas acuta species. If you want to know some intriguing facts about the pintails, then read on:

  • These birds are extremely intelligent and crafty. If there is a predator that attacks the nest, the hen sprigs are talented enough to pretend as if they are injured. This action of theirs diverts the attention of the enemy. In spite of all this, if the enemy manages to grab the eggs, the hen is also efficient enough to immediately mate once again and substitute the lost eggs.
  • The bodies of these birds are beautifully streamlined. Their long necks and tails make them look really slick and beautiful. Apart from looking great, this body structure helps them fly fast. They can do about 48 miles per hour! This is the main reason for them being called “Air greyhounds”.
  • The birds create pairs during the mating season and they remain committed to each other but this commitment is only for that particular mating season. Once the season is over, they may pair with other birds for the next season.

Are Bull Sprigs Endangered?

Initially, the Northern pintails were not at all in a position to be classified as endangered. There were about two million of them which could breed. Because of these huge numbers, they were among the most commonplace waterfowls in the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, for the last decade, these numbers have not been maintained. The numbers plunged down to a large extent during this time. In fact, the number of birds in the breeding stage reduced by more than 7 million. This shocking decrease does have its own reasons which are as follows:

  • The rate at which we are cutting down trees is reducing their habitat at a very rapid pace.
  • Not enough water due to drought and reduction of the fish that they depend on for food.
  • The bull sprigs sell for high prices and so they are hunted down recklessly for the money.

In order to stop the further decline of the number of these birds, some places have brought in some rules which prevent them from hunting these birds.

Can You Hunt Pintail Ducks?

The rules and regulations for hunting both the genders of this species differ in different areas. So, if you are planning to hunt them down, you may need a license and you will have to find out about the rules regarding hunting them.

Author Note: These rules regarding hunting are decided by the US Fish and Wildlife Services. There are different ways in which they try to reduce the number of birds being shot down. One way is to allow hunting only for a particular time of the year. Another way is to limit the number of birds each hunter can hunt.

The females play such an important role in bringing forth new birds and so, the rules regarding hunting apply very rigorously to them.

Can You Raise Pintails as Pets?

The stately appearance of the northern pintails makes it very tempting to have them as pets. However, this is not a good idea at all for the following reasons:

  • The breeding cycle of the northern pintail is completely dependent on their migration. If they are kept as pets, the migration and ultimately their life cycles also get affected.
  • Hen sprigs always like to make their nests only in places that are wide open. They will not be comfortable making nests in confined places.
  • They are not very confident when there are human beings around. This is more true when it is summer.

Because of all these reasons, it is not really correct to have these birds in captivity. Attempting to do this will lead to discomfort for both the bird and the owner.

Having these birds as pets is not at all the same as the concept of conservation. Conservation is something that is conducted in large numbers. The conservatories are places that mimic the natural habitats of these birds so that they are comfortable. These are places where human beings do not interfere unnecessarily.

Final Words

To summarise the whole thing, these bull sprigs are the males of the species which have crossed 240 days after hatching. The names of these birds refer to their gender and maturity and the latter part of the name is indicative of the pintail species which is called Anas acuta.

The pintails are flashy birds that have perfectly streamlined bodies that are instrumental in helping them fly at great speed. They find a place in the list of the earliest migrating ducks.

The worrying thing about these birds is that their numbers are decreasing very rapidly. However, the various hunting rules that are in place in different areas give us the hope that they will not get into the endangered list.

About the author

Hi, I'm Andrew. I am a highly experienced birder with a passionate interest in bird behavior and ecology. I have worked extensively with both captive and wild birds, conducting research on their natural history, physiology, and conservation. My work has taken me all over the world, and I have been lucky enough to observe some of the rarest and most exclusive species on earth. I am also an experienced teacher, having taught ornithology at both the college and high school levels.

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