Native North American Teal  
By Paul Dye

  Three species of teal are common to North America,  Green-winged  Teal (Anas crecca), Blue-Winged Teal Anas discors) and Cinnamon teal (Anas cyanoptera).  I’m fortunate, located on the Pacific Northwest Coast, to have all three of these species as regular visitors to my farm and sanctuary.  Visits by the Cinnamons and Blue-Wings is mostly limited to spring and summer, while the Green-wings are liable to drop-in almost any time of the year.  All three are known to nest in my area,  however the only wild teal nest I’ve stumbled onto on my property was a green-wing that nested at the foot of a willow tree adjacent to a mowed hiking trail not far from my home.

 

In The Wild   

(Photos to be added)

Green-winged Teal

This smallest of the North American dabbling species have been found to weigh as little as 6.6 ounces. They are obviously named for the bright, iridescent speculums of both sexes.  The dark chestnut-colored head of the drakes is divided by a green band behind the eyes that is usually bordered with a yellow stripe.  The Aleutian Green-winged teal subspecies (A. c nimia) is identical to the Eurasian Green-wing, except for being slightly larger, in that it has a horizontal white stripe that separates it’s gray flanks and back, and does not have the broad white vertical band between it’s breast and flank that is so obvious in the North American subspecies.  This Aleutian race is however limited to Alaska year-round, where they are possibly the most numerous puddle duck of the Aleutian Islands.  Except for Pintail and Widgeon, Green-wings are the most abundant dabbling duck on the arctic breeding grounds. 

Green-wing teal are among the first waterfowl to arrive north in the spring and among the last to head south in the fall.   They can be readily identified by their swift, dashing flight that sometimes reach speeds of up to 50 mph and are characterized by their twisting and turning in unison, much in the manner of shorebirds.  It is not uncommon  for flocks to fly almost vertically in a towering fashion, their rapidly beating wings creating soft whistling sounds.

  Green-wings are attracted to a wide variety of aquatic resources, from small farm, beaver and urban ponds to a wide variety of wetland types, the shorelines of large lakes, and even tide pools and shallow water reefs. They are not particularly shy of humans, and can often be observed resting at the shoreline, on open water, and sometimes perched on dead tress over the water.

  The male green-wings, which often outnumber the females, are frequently aggressive to each other and chasing battles are sometimes observed.  Pair bonds are strong until the female initiates incubation, however promiscuous males do on occasion rape unattached females.

  Green-wing teal often nest near weed-choked creeks, roadside ditches, beaver and farm ponds, however more distant sites may be used, such as the trailside location on my farm described earlier.  In that case the nest was over 100 ft from the nearest water, a trout pond.  Although I have never seen a green-wing clutch of over 10 eggs, they are known to lay up to 16 eggs.  The incubation period, like that of the northern pintail, is quite short at 21 to 23 days.  The ducklings can take up to six weeks to fledge, although some have been observed independent in 30 days in the far north, due possibly to food availability and the need to be on the move before freeze-up.

 

  Blue-Winged Teal

An abundant little duck with a spectacular migration pattern is the diminutive Blue-Winged Teal.  Most start their travels from Alaska, the western Canadian wilds or the maritime provinces and winter in Central or South America, with occasional stragglers making it all the way to Argentina or Chile.  Observers often find them in the company of other waterfowl species, such as mallards or black ducks probably for the added security.

Blue-wing teal are more vociferous than Green-wings, and their keck, keck, keck calls are often part of the many sounds associated with bird-rich marshes. The hen quack similar to mallards, but softer and more rapidly.  They can be positively identified with a good degree of certainty when the heads of males begin to show their white crescents.  This occurs in adult males between mid-November and December, and in juvenile males around February or March.

Although heavily harvested by hunters, and suffering from constant habitat loss they remain among the most numerous of America’s waterfowl species.  Their numbers have been reported to fluctuate between 5 million and 9 million individuals.  Being early migrants, they not only arrive early on their nesting areas, but leave early southward in the fall, escaping heavy harvest by more northern hunters.  While they do concentrate for nesting in ideal habitats, small numbers are observed in marginal areas, such as the New Jersey meadowlands I roamed in my youth and the drainage ditches and sewage treatment ponds near my current home north of Seattle.  Once their mates begin the process of incubation it’s not uncommon for occasional lonely local males to “drop in” near my aviaries in search of company.

The favorite nesting site for Blue-Wings is in dense vegetation near the prairie pothole, slough, marsh or farm pond they have selected for their brood rearing.  Incubation takes – days, and clutch size appears to average between 5 and 8 eggs.  The precocious ducklings begin feeding and growing almost immediately, allowing many to be ready for an early departure southward by August.

 

  Cinnamon Teal

This beautiful species has relatives in many parts of the Americas, but our North American population is limited to the far-west.  It is easily the least numerous of our North American teal species, with numbers fluctuating between 300.000 and 600,000 in good years. 

The males are a bright cinnamon color with blue shoulder patches separated from their speculum by a white stripe.  The female Cinnamon is almost indistinguishable from a female Blue-wing, except that it’s overall color is slightly more tan, while the Blue-wing is slightly more gray, and the Cinnamons bill is longer and slightly wider before it tapers to its end.  Some observers have described the powder-blue shoulder patches of both sexes of the Cinnamon to appear chalky, while those of the Blue-wings are described as more waxy. Adult male Cinnamons begin to molt into their eclipse plumage in late June and by late July they closely resemble their hens.

While some of the more southern nesting Cinnamon teal do not appear to be migratory, those that nest further north leave for their wintering areas early in the fall.  For this reason their percentage of harvest by hunters is believed to be lower than many species. 

Relatively quiet and trusting, Cinnamons rarely gather in large flocks.  They seem to be at their most numerous in the alkaline, shallow marshes of the inter-mountain western plains, with the biggest concentration in the state of Utah.  They are often observed utilizing shallow farm ponds, lakes and also sluggish creeks and irrigation ditches.  In my part of Washington State they can be found nesting and rearing young in the ditches designed to drain diked farmland along Puget Sound.  Drakes are sometimes still seen accompanying females with broods.  They ducklings grow rapidly and are sometimes independent by a month of age, although they do not attain the ability to fly until almost seven weeks old.

 

 Captive management  in the aviary

  All three of the native North American Teal species are fairly easy to maintain and breed in a suitable captive setting.  They are all also relatively compatible with other waterfowl species in a mixed collection.  The only real limitation, as with many other species, is that the males may become aggressively territorial if more than one pair of each is kept in the average sized aviary.  Because of their small size they are especially well adapted to life in a covered aviary, where they are a joy to watch getting airborne for their daily evening flights.  All three species become tame and trusting if properly cared for, with the Green-wing possibly retaining the most skittishness. 

Their diet needs are simple to satisfy; I feed mine a mixture of wheat and Purina Game Bird feeds.  I use the Purina Layena in spring, their Flight Conditioner during growth periods, and their lower protein Game Bird Maintenance diet during winter.  As with most species I use a treat on the water that they love, like white millet, to check their condition.  The one that doesn’t respond to the special treat is then caught and checked for weight loss or injury.  I’ve found all three of these native teal species to be fairly trouble-free, although the Green-wing seems slightly more prone to plumage problems if their swimming water is not of good quality, especially the drakes. 

Of the three species the Blue-Wing is the most likely to prefer heavy vegetation over nest boxes for their nest site, although if not given the option they will often use a box.  For these species I use ground nest boxes approximately 11.5” high, 11.5” wide and 18” to 24” long.  A 3.5” to 6” diameter entrance hole is provided, either at one end or along one of the long sides.  The size of the holes is dependant on weather you wish to exclude another larger residents from competing for the same box.  The lid is removable for easy access to the nest for egg collection or monitoring.

 The ducklings of all three species present no special challenges to rear, as they all readily begin eating, are fairly tame, and no more prone to disease than any other dabbling species.  As soon as they are dry in the hatcher they are moved to my dry brooders where they are provided a water fount and starter feed in a shallow dish.  I have found the lids from Haggen-Daz ice cream containers to be ideal for this purpose, and always readily available (from our kitchen).  I have had good results with Purina Game Bird Startena feed, and excellent results with Mazuri Waterfowl Starter, although I suspect there are many other brands that would work equally well.  As soon as I am sure all the ducklings in a brood are eating out of their feed dish, they and that same dish are moved to a similar wet brooder for the next 2 weeks or so until they are ready to be moved outdoors.

 I usually do not recommend these teal species for inexperienced people who wish to start  a pinioned mixed flock of waterfowl on a large open-topped pond.  Because of their small size they can be difficult to enjoy and find each feeding, and their size also makes them prey for a wider array of avian predators than the larger species of waterfowl.

 

References:

Todd, Frank S.,  Natural History of The Waterfowl,  Ibis Publishing Co.,
ISBN 0-934797-11-0

Bellrose, Frank C., Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, Wildlife Management Institute, ISBN 0-8117-0535-8

 

Paul & Lynn Dye
Northwest Wildfowl Farm
10114 54th Place N.E., Everett, WA 98205 USA

Phone:(425)334-8223 Fax:(425)397-8136
E-mail: dye@greatnorthern.net

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