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Blue-winged Teal

Photo Credit: Bill Horn

DESCRIPTION: Male blue-winged teal have a slate gray head and neck, a black edged white crescent in front of the eyes and a blackish crown. The breast and sides are tan with dark brown speckles and there is a white spot on the side of the rump. Most of the upper wing coverts are blue-gray, the secondaries form an iridescent green speculum, and the underwing is whitish. The bill is black and the legs and feet are yellowish to orange. The male has a thin whistled “tsee tsee” uttered both in flight and when on water. Female blue-winged teal have a brownish-gray head with a darker crown and eye-stripe. The breast and sides are brown, the upper parts are olive brown, and the upper wing coverts are bluish, but less vibrant than the drake. The bill is gray-black and the legs and feet are dull yellow-brown. The female has a high-pitched squeak.
DISTRIBUTION: Blue-winged teal are generally the first ducks south in the fall and the last north in the spring. They migrate from the prairie pothole region to wintering areas in Florida, the Caribbean Islands, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, Mexico, and Central and South America. Wintering habitats are diverse, including mangrove swamps, fresh and brackish estuaries, and shallow wetlands. In the USA, the highest winter densities occur in southern Texas and peninsular Florida. Blue-winged teal are common in winter from Central America, the Caribbean and South America south to Peru and northeastern Brazil. They also stay regularly in small numbers in the Galapagos Islands, and are vagrants to Chile, southeastern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
HABITAT: Blue-winged teal inhabit shallow wetlands with emergent vegetation. Their breeding habitat is usually open-country wetlands. During migration they are sometimes found over the ocean, many miles from shore.
FEEDING HABITS: Blue-winged teal dabble to feed on vegetative parts of aquatic plants (algae, duckweeds, pondweeds, etc.), seeds (sedges, pondweeds, grasses, etc.), and large amounts of aquatic invertebrates found in shallowly flooded wetlands.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Blue-winged teal breed primarily in the northern prairies and parklands of central North America. Their relative abundance generally increases from west to east and north to south within the prairie pothole region. Nesting habitat includes wetland areas within grasslands, such as shallow marshes, sloughs, flooded ditches, and temporary ponds. Females change breeding sites from year to year in response to changing wetland conditions and lay an average of 10 eggs.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan population goal is 4.7 million. Blue-winged teal have the highest annual mortality rate (reaching 65%) of all the dabbling ducks, possibly as a result of hunting and a long over-ocean migration. Annual population levels can vary greatly due to the potential for high mortality rates. 
Bellrose, Frank C. 1980. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. Harrisburg, PA. Stackpole Books.
Bob Hines. 1978. Ducks at a Distance. Washington D.C. Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
(Scott and Carbonell, 1986)
AUTHOR: Chuck Sharp, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

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