South Georgia Pintail
A South Georgia dabbling duck noted by Captain Cook as he discovered the island
What you need to know about the South Georgia Pintail
Our Expert Says… "This is the only wildfowl that breeds in South Georgia. Because of the rat problem, you could only previously find them on the small offshore islands, not often visited. Now there are no rats, the pace that pintails are recolonizing the main island is wonderful to see and a real conservation success story."
The South Georgia pintail is sometimes called the South Georgia teal, but it’s certainly not a member of the teal family! This dabbling duck is an endemic species on the South Georgia archipelago and is also sometimes found on the South Sandwich Islands.
When Captain James Cook made the first-ever recorded landing on South Georgia Island in 1775, the pintail was one of the first species that his expedition noted.
The South Georgia pintail is found mainly on the northern part of the island, the southern areas being too rugged to provide the habitats that it likes. It prefers freshwater pools with surrounding tussock grass, but can also be found in marshy wetlands or other poorly-drained areas that are prone to flooding from melting snow. Pintails can also be found on the coast, where they will often seek out seal wallows.
The South Georgia pintail has developed feeding habits that suit the unpredictability of its home, and will happily eat a wide variety of foods. Pintails can be seen eating vegetation, including marine algae which they will dive for in calm conditions. They will also eat small snails, clams, shrimps, and other crustaceans. They have even been seen scavenging meat from seal carcasses!
South Georgia pintails have a long breeding season that runs from late October to March, so it’s likely that you will see birds mating, nesting, and brooding as well as chicks. They make their nests among thicker tussock grass, away from water. An interesting behavior is that South Georgia pintails will often land some distance from the nest when they return from feeding, then stealthily creep up to it. This avoids giving away the position of the eggs or chicks to any predatory seabirds who may be watching.
Mother pintails will move their brood from pond to pond, the adult usually stay in the open part of the water while the chicks forage in the grassy shallows.
Before South Georgia was used as a commercial whaling station, pintails were present in large numbers. Unfortunately, thanks to both being hunted for food by the whalers and predation by introduced rats, their numbers plummeted. However, since South Georgia was abandoned as a whaling station, numbers recovered somewhat. Since conservationists eradicated rats on the island in 2018 the population of pintails is now thought to be at about the maximum the habitat can support, at over 2,000.