Teal ducks are a beautiful type of wild duck known for their striking plumage. The word “teal” refers to a few different species of small wild ducks that belong to the genus Anas. Specifically, Blue-winged Teals (Anas discors) are one of the most common teal species in North America.
Appearance and Size
Teal ducks are relatively small in size compared to other wild ducks. They have a long, slender neck and a small head. Their body length ranges from 14-20 inches. Some key features that make teal ducks stand out include:
- Colors: Males have gorgeous, iridescent teal to blue-green colored feathers on the head and upperparts of the body during breeding season. The chest is a rich cinnamon or chestnut color with speckles, while the belly is white or light gray.
- Bill: The bill is grayish-black and fairly proportional to the body size.
- Eyes: Teals have dark brown or red eyes.
- Legs and feet: The legs and feet are yellowish-olive to grayish.
Females are less colorful than males. They have mottled brown upperparts, a brown speckled chest, white underparts, and the same colored bill and eyes.
Habitat and Range
Teals inhabit shallow freshwater ponds, lakes, marshes, and wetlands across much of North America. They prefer areas with dense aquatic vegetation. During winter, they migrate from their breeding grounds in northern North America to the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and even northern South America.
The Blue-winged Teal has a wide range that covers:
- Continental USA
- Central America
Other teal species inhabit parts of Eurasia, Africa, South America, and Australia. For example, the Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) is abundant across the Old World in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Teals are omnivorous and dabble for food while swimming. Their diet consists of:
- Aquatic plants
- Small fish
- Aquatic invertebrates
They use their slender bills to grasp and filter feed along the surface of the water or reach into the mud beneath. Their wide, flat bills are well-adapted for getting food from shallow water.
Teals exhibit some typical duck behaviors. During the day they spend much of their time loafing on shorelines or the surface of water. They can dive underwater to escape predators, using their wings to propel them. Males are highly territorial during breeding season.
However, teals are also known for their exceptionally fast and maneuverable flight. They have pointed wings and can reach speeds up to 44 mph in flight. Their agile flying skills allow them to escape predators.
Teals breed in the spring and summer across their range. They are monogamous and form pairs only for the breeding season. The female chooses a nesting site on the ground, well-hidden in dense vegetation near water. Nests consist of grasses and feathers lined into a shallow bowl or cavity.
Females lay 5-16 eggs that incubate for 21-27 days. The mothers do all the incubation while the males stand guard nearby. Once hatched, the ducklings follow their mother to water within 12-36 hours. They can feed themselves immediately but stay near her for protection.
Teal ducklings grow rapidly and can fly within 6-7 weeks after hatching. By 10-11 weeks old the juveniles are fully independent. Most teals breed for the first time at a year old.
Many teal species remain widespread and abundant enough to be considered Least Concern by the IUCN. However, habitat loss in breeding areas and hunting pressure have led to declining populations for some species like the Speckled Teal (Anas flavirostris) of South America, which is Near Threatened.
Comparison to Other Duck Species
Teals can be differentiated from other ducks by their small size, long neck, colorful breeding plumage, and very fast flying speeds. Here is how they compare to some common duck groups:
|Duck Type||Size||Distinguishing Features|
|Teals||14-20 inches long||Small-bodied ducks with long necks and brightly colored iridescent plumage. Extremely fast, agile flight.|
|Mallards||20-26 inches long||Medium-large ducks. Green heads and yellow bills on males. Very common.|
|Wood ducks||18-21 inches long||Slender bodies with crests. Very colorful iridescent plumage.|
Where to See Them
Some of the best places to spot teals in North America include:
- Prairie Pothole Region (Northern USA and Canada) – breeding grounds
- Coastal marshes along Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts – wintering habitat
- Central Valley wetlands in California
- Wetland preserves (e.g. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington)
Teals congregate in large flocks, sometimes mixed with other ducks, in their wetland wintering habitats. Birdwatchers should look for the small ducks with blue-green patches and rapid, darting flight patterns over the water.
With their beautiful breeding plumage, small stature, and impressively fast flying abilities, teal ducks are one of the most elegant duck species in North America. Look for them in shallow wetlands and marshy areas across the continent as they migrate and breed during spring and summer. Their agile movements and striking colors make them a delight to observe in the wild.