Yellow-billed pintail (Anas georgica)

Also known as: brown pintail, Chilean brown pintail, Chilean pintail, Niceforo’s pintail, South Georgia pintail, South Georgia teal, South Georgian pintail, South Georgian teal
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderAnseriformes
FamilyAnatidae
GenusAnas (1)
SizeLength: 43 - 66 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 60 - 85 cm (3)
Weight460 - 827 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Named for its conspicuous yellow beak, the yellow-billed pintail is an otherwise fairly nondescript duck, with a slender body, brownish plumage and a long, pointed tail. The dark feathers of the back are edged with reddish-buff or grey, and the underparts are mottled, with a paler throat. The tail is brown, and the wings bear a glossy black patch, or ‘speculum’, which is tinged green and bordered in buff in front and behind (3) (4) (5). The legs and toes are grey (3) (4). The male and female yellow-billed pintail are similar in appearance, but the female is duller, with whitish underparts and a dull blackish-brown speculum (2) (3) (4). The female also has a less solid black stripe down the centre of the yellow beak, and a greyish rather than black lower mandible (6). The male yellow-billed pintail gives a low, whistling call, while the female gives a low quack (3) (5). Juveniles are duller, greyer and more streaked than the adults (2) (3) (4).

Three subspecies of yellow-billed pintail are recognised, of which one, Anas georgica niceforoi (Niceforo’s pintail), is now believed to be extinct (2) (3) (4) (5) (7). Of the living subspecies, Anas georgica georgica (South Georgia pintail) is smaller and darker than Anas georgica spinicauda (Chilean pintail), and has a brown rather than whitish abdomen (2) (3) (4). Both A. g. niceforoi and A. g. spinicauda have sometimes been considered distinct species (2) (4) (5).

The yellow-billed pintail is widespread across South America, from Colombia south as far as Tierra del Fuego. A. g. spinicauda is found on the mainland and on the Falkland Islands, while A. g. georgica is endemic to South Georgia (2) (3) (4) (7). The species is partially migratory, with individuals in the far south moving north during the winter. A. g. georgica is largely confined to South Georgia, but has occasionally been recorded in the South Shetland Islands and even the Antarctic Peninsula (2) (3 (4), making it the most southerly recorded waterfowl species (3).

This species is found in a variety of habitats, including freshwater lakes, rivers, marshes, coastal lagoons, flooded meadows, and on sheltered coasts (2) (3) (4) (5). It has also been recorded at a wide range of elevations, from sea level to as high as 4,600 metres in the Andes Mountains (2) (3). A. g. georgica is rarely found far from the coast (3).

The yellow-billed pintail has a varied diet, feeding on seeds, roots, grain, grasses, sedges, algae (including marine algae) and other aquatic plants, as well as aquatic invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, snails and other molluscs (2) (8). This species forages by ‘dabbling’ at the surface, or by head-dipping or upending to feed just below the surface, although it also occasionally dives below the water, and also forages on land (2) (7).

The breeding season of the yellow-billed pintail varies with location, ranging from October to December in the south (October to March in South Georgia), to between August and March in Peru (2) (8). Nesting occurs in single pairs or in loose groups (2) and studies in captivity suggest that the species may have a polygynous or promiscuous mating system (9). The nest is built on the ground, in vegetation near water, and is a shallow platform of stems, lined with grass and down (2) (5). Between 4 and 10 eggs are laid (2) (5), hatching after around 26 days, and the newly hatched chicks are dark brown above and yellowish below (2). This species may be able to lay replacement clutches of eggs, for example if the first is lost to predators (9).

The yellow-billed pintail has a wide distribution and large population, which is not currently known to be facing any major threats (2) (10), and the subspecies A. g. spinicauda is considered to be one of the most common ducks in South America (2). The subspecies A. g. georgica is somewhat less abundant, with a population of perhaps just a few thousand individuals, although it is now recovering from the intense hunting that occurred when South Georgia was used as a base for sealers and whalers (2) (3). Brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are present on the island (3), but the pintail does not appear to be greatly affected by rat predation (2).

The subspecies A. g. niceforoi, which occurred in central Colombia, was declared extinct in 1956, just ten years after it was first described (2) (3). Apparently once common and widespread, the reasons for its extinction are not clear, although intensive shooting may have contributed to its demise (3).

There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for this abundant and widespread duck.

To find out more about the yellow-billed pintail see:

For more information on conservation in South Georgia see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2002) Photographic Handbook: Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  4. Blake, E.R. (1977) Manual of Neotropical Birds. Volume 1: Spheniscidae (Penguins) to Laridae (Gulls and Allies). University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  5. Hilty, S.L. and Brown, W.L. (1986) A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  6. Wilson, R.E., Goldfeder, S. and McCracken, K.G. (2004) Bill sexual dichromatism of yellow-billed pintail (Anas georgica) and speckled teal (A. flavirostris). Ornitologia Neotropical, 15: 543-545.
  7. Schulenberg, T.S. (2010) Yellow-billed pintail (Anas georgica). In: Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:  
    http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=70951
  8. Weller, M.W. (1975) Ecology and behaviour of the South Georgia pintail Anas g. georgica. Ibis, 117(2): 217-231.
  9. Martin, A.R. (2002) The South Georgia pintail Anas g. georgica in captivity: history, management and implications for conservation. Wildfowl, 53: 215-223.
  10. BirdLife International (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=459&m=0