Blue-winged Teal

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Common Name: Blue-winged Teal
Scientific Name: Anas discors

Size: 16 inches (40 cm); Wingspan: 23 inches (58 cm)

Habitat: The Americas; all of North America except western and northern Alaska, northern Yukon Territory, northern Northwest Territory, northeastern Canada. They are rare in the desert southwest, and the west coast.

The breeding range extends from east-central Alaska and southern Mackenzie District east to southern Quebec and southwestern Newfoundland. In the contiguous United States it breeds from northeast California east to central Louisiana, central Tennessee, and the Atlantic Coast. The western subspecies inhabits that part of the breeding range west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Atlantic subspecies nests along the Atlantic Coast from New Brunswick to Pea Island, North Carolina.

They migrate in flocks to winter in the south of its breeding range. During migration, some birds may fly long distances over the open ocean. They are occasional vagrants to Europe, and in recent years have been annual vagrants in Britain and Ireland. The Blue-winged Teal winters from southern California to western and southern Texas, the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast and south to Central and South America. It is often seen wintering as far south as Brazil and central Chile.

They inhabit shorelines more often than open water and prefer calm water or sluggish currents to fast water. In coastal areas, breeding occurs in salt-marsh meadows with adjoining ponds or creeks. Teal winter on shallow inland freshwater marshes and brackish and saltwater marshes. They are flightless during their late summer molt, and they spend this time in prairie potholes or large marshes.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 2,800,000 to 7,400,000 individuals. Blue-winged Teal are the second most abundant duck in North America, behind the Mallard.

Their numbers fluctuate mainly as a response to water conditions, with drought causing populations to fall. By funding farmers to leave some of their fields fallow, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program has helped increase grassland nesting habitat by about 1.8 million acres in this species' prairie pothole breeding range. Blue-winged Teal are early migrants, so they're gone from much of the U.S. before duck-hunting season begins in many states. Still, hunters shoot 200,000 to upwards of 500,000 Blue-winged Teal per year (this hunting pressure is carefully managed to maintain population goals). Blue-winged Teal, like other ducks, are vulnerable to wetland loss or degradation, pesticide contamination (particularly on their wintering grounds, in countries where DDT is still legal), and consumption of lead shot where it is still used.

About half of the nest failures of Blue-winged Teal were caused by mammals. Striped and Spotted Skunks were responsible for two-thirds of these losses. All nest losses caused by birds were attributed to either crows or magpies

Diet: Aquatic insects such as midge larvae, crustaceans, clams, and snails as well as vegetation and grains. Breeding females eat mostly protein-rich animal matter. In winter, seeds such as rice, millet, water lilies are the predominant foods. They feed by dabbling in shallow water at the edge of marshes or open water.

Nesting: Both sexes have sky-blue wing coverts, a green speculum, and yellow legs. They have two molts per year and a third molt in their first year. The adult male has a greyish blue head with a white facial crescent, a light brown body with a white patch near the rear and a black tail. The adult female is mottled brown, and has a whitish area at base of bill. The call of the male is a short whistle and the female's call is a soft quack.

The onset of courtship among immature Blue-winged Teal often starts in late January or early February. In areas south of the breeding grounds, Blue-winged Teal are more active in courtship during the spring migration than are most other ducks. They have a range of exaggerated motions that they use as displays. Often male will make these displays while oriented to the side of the female he is courting. They include pumping the head up and down, dipping the head under water rapidly, and tipping up or dabbling in the water with body feathers raised. Females may respond by "inciting": lowering her head, pointing her bill at the male, and then raising her head. Pair bonds typically dissolve during incubation, and adults form new pair bonds with different mates in the winter or spring.

They build their nests on dry ground in grassy sites such as bluegrass meadows, hayfields, and sedge meadows within several hundred yards of open water. They will also nest in areas with very short, sparse vegetation. If the habitat is good, they nest communally.

Blue-winged Teal generally lay 10 to 12 eggs. Delayed nesting and re-nesting efforts will have substantially smaller clutches, averaging five to six eggs. Incubation takes 21 to 27 days and ducklings are able to walk within 12 hours of hatching.

Cool Facts: Blue-winged Teal are generally the first ducks south in the fall and the last ones north in the spring. Adult drakes depart the breeding grounds well before adult hens and immatures. Most Blue-winged Teal flocks seen after mid-September are composed largely of adult hens and immatures.

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume I: Dabbling Ducks

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