Tony Trischka’s Essential Practice Techniques for Bluegrass Banjo

Tony Trischka's Essential Practice Techniques for Bluegrass BanjoLessons from a pro!

Tony Trischka’s Essential Practice Techniques for Bluegrass Banjo is a great way for a beginning banjo player to pick up important tips on best practices, but it can also be useful for the intermediate player seeking to brush up on key skills. Either way, foundational technique is the focus.

Topics covered include:

  • Rhythm.
  • Slurs.
  • Standard rolls.
  • Right-hand finger independence.
  • Playing by ear.
  • Effective practicing.

Exercises and etudes are provided to illustrate the skills and reinforce the technique, each lesson building on the last. Be sure to focus on following Trischka’s clear and logical advice about playing in time and with an even tone. If you pay attention to these details, you will be well on your way to mastering the banjo and sounding professional.

A PDF booklet with all of the necessary tablature is included on the disc.

Highly recommended for all who take banjo technique seriously!

Green-Winged Teal

Green-Winged TealThe green-winged teal (Anas crecca) has the distinction of being the smallest dabbling duck in North America. The male has a rather striking color pattern. His head is a rich cinnamon color marked with an iridescent green stripe running back from the eye. If you can get a close look, notice the thin white line running along the bottom edge of the stripe. His bill is black, his breast is buffy with dark spots, and most of his body is gray. Note, however, the characteristic white slash mark on the side, just in front of the wing. This duck has black undertail coverts, setting off a unique, roughly triangular streak of buff on the side of the tail.

The female green-winged teal is mottled brown overall. Her pattern is somewhat darker than that of other teal.

In flight, both sexes of teal display a particularly dazzling green speculum with light borders on both edges. The border on the trailing edge is white, while the front border is a buffy chestnut that may appear white in some lightings. They also share white bellies and the ability to fly quickly and with incredible agility.


Best Field Marks

  • Cinnamon head of male.
  • White slash mark on side of male.
  • Buffy streak on side of tail of male.
  • Bright green speculum.


Green-Winged TealVoice

The male green-winged teal mainly vocalizes when courting. His hallmark call is a whistled crick-et, sometimes compared to the sound of a spring peeper frog. However, he may also chitter, burp, or grunt.

The female is known for her shrill, persistent quacking. She can be quite noisy in many situations, but the speed and intensity of the calls increase when she is searching for a nesting site. Her other sound is a harsh rattle directed at males of interest during courtship season.


Distribution & Occurrence

The green-winged teal is among the most common ducks in Kansas, putting in an appearance nearly anywhere open water or wetlands can be found. Most arrive during the fall, particularly in early November. While it is uncommon for these ducks to spend the winter in Kansas, it has been known to happen when the water is not entirely frozen. Males are more likely to stay through the winter months than females, as the latter tend to travel further south during migration.

The next major influx of green-winged teal comes in the spring, when large flocks pass through on the way to their breeding grounds. They normally breed in the wooded wetlands of Canada and Alaska, but they can occur casually throughout the summer in Kansas except in the Flint Hills. On rare occasions, they even breed in this state. Most of the breeding records come from Cheyenne Bottoms, but pairs have nested in scattered locations across the length of the state.


Green-Winged TealBehavior

Green-winged teal are the acrobats of the duck world. Large flocks of several hundred can fly in compact formation, darting and twisting with intricate precision. On the other hand, if a flock on the water is disturbed, the whole group can scatter in all directions in the blink of an eye. But they are equally at home on land and water. They can run surprisingly fast for ducks, and they can even dive out of sight if necessary.

The diet of the green-winged teal is varied, although aquatic plants are the preferred food. However, this duck will scavenge in shallow water, agricultural fields, and woodlots for anything from grain to crustaceans to insects. During the winter, its diet mostly consists of seeds and larvae.

While the majority of green-winged teal court and pair off on the wintering grounds, many wait until after spring migration to choose a mate. The female selects a well-hidden nesting site, usually in a weedy meadow or in brush not too far from water. She scrapes a bowl in the dirt and fills it with grasses and twigs. Once she has laid six to 18 eggs (anytime from late June to early August in Kansas), she completes the nest with a lining of down. The male supervises the whole proceeding until incubation begins, then goes his own way.

Incubation lasts from 20 to 24 days. The young are able to leave the nest within hours. The female accompanies them for protection and warmth at night, but they are quite able to feed themselves. They are usually able to fly in a little over a month.



Since green-winged teal are open to checking out just about any body of water in just about any part of the state, a small pond is sufficient to attract these birds during migration.

Hunters find that green-winged teal are likely to come to a generous setup of decoys of many different species, simulating a big mixed flock peacefully feeding. Green-winged teal decoys should be included, but for added realism be sure to put out mallards, shovelers, and pintails, as well.


Green-Winged TealSimilar Species

Female Teal
Female teal are notoriously similar, but are actually surprisingly easy to tell apart if you know what to look for. The most reliable field mark is on the wing. Both the blue-winged and the cinnamon teal have blue shoulder patches. The green-winged teal does not. Somewhat less trustworthy but still useful is the duck’s size. The green-winged teal is smaller than other teal species and has a proportionately shorter bill.


Helpful Resource

Green-Winged Teal
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Keeping a Garden Journal

Keeping a Garden JournalGardening season is finally upon us! If you’re like most gardeners, you are looking forward to planting seeds with the full expectation of making this the best gardening year yet.

While much of gardening comes down to experience, diligence, and creativity, having the right tools makes a big difference. One handy tool is the garden journal.


Advantages of Keeping a Garden Journal

  • Permanent record. While you can keep gardening notes on loose sheets of paper or sticky notes, the chances of you finding and referring to these notes in the future are slim to none. When your notes are in one place, whether that is a binder or a real journal, you have access to valuable information.
  • Memory aid. Really, are you going to remember what’s going on in your garden from one year to the next? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not. Write down important information. It will save you a few headaches.
  • Simplicity. Writing in a garden journal gives you an opportunity to condense your thoughts and observations into key information that you can use.
  • Learning tool. By noting our successes and mistakes, we have a road map to use in future years. This helps us build expertise quickly, since we are not wasting time repeating mistakes.
  • Sharpen observation skills. Part of becoming a green thumb is observation. If you have a journal that invites you to note your observations, you might just find yourself looking for new ways to fill the pages. Your powers of observation improve, and so does your understanding of your unique garden.
  • Proof of progress. You really are developing a green thumb, and your garden journal contains proof. A review of past journals can keep you motivated and spark ideas for overcoming current challenges.
  • Gardening memories. If you have gardened long enough, you have undoubtedly made some great memories. A glance through an old journal can bring recollections back as though the events happened yesterday.


What to Write in a Garden Journal

  • Garden plans. Did you know that a garden journal can double as a planning tool? You can use your journal to keep track of seed lists, garden maps, and planting dates. This is an especially good use of a journal, since it keeps all of your gardening information in one place.
  • Frost dates. While you can find average first and last frost dates for your area easily enough, you will have much better results if you track the frost dates in your own garden. After several years, calculate the average. Does your garden tend to be warmer or cooler than the surrounding area? It makes a difference!
  • Signs of the seasons. Let nature be your guide. Every spring comes a little earlier or later than the last one. With practice, you can learn to plant in sync with the seasons. A journal can help you keep track of signs to look for.
  • Crop rotations. Don’t let diseases or nutrient deficiencies build up in your soil! Hang onto your map and planting records. Having access to last year’s information is a big help. Having access to the last three years’ information is even better.
  • To-dos. Keep track of gardening chores and how often they need to be done. While you’re writing down what you observed today, jot notes on what you need to do tomorrow or in a week. Staying organized is suddenly quite easy!
  • Experiments and their results. Are you trying something new this year? Write it down, and be sure to note the results as they arise. Not only does the process of writing cement information in our heads, but even if we do forget we have a permanent record to refer to.
  • Notes on favorite plants. Need to remember when to cultivate the asparagus bed? How to prune the blackberries? Where to plant nasturtiums to take advantage of their pest-repelling properties? Keep pages in your journal specifically for notes on plants that you grow every year. Now you don’t just have a journal—you have a personalized reference book!
  • Favorite varieties. Likewise, keep track of your favorite plant varieties. Note which tomatoes were the easiest to grow and which lettuce tasted the best. When it’s time to buy seeds again, you’ll already know what kinds to get.
  • Pests and diseases. Every gardener (particularly every organic gardener) has a list of “bad guys” that they count on battling every year. Improve your warfare strategy by recording the habits and preferences of the bug or fungus in question, then list ways to deter or destroy it.


A Final Tip

The most important thing to remember about keeping a garden journal is that it should be simple. If wrestling with a bulky binder feels complicated to you, you may very well give up on your journal before the season ends. If writing a detailed essay on your garden every day feels complicated to you, you probably will avoid the task like the plague.

Find a journal that invites you to jot down your thoughts. Then write down only what you are interested in remembering.


Helpful Resource

The Family Garden JournalThe Family Garden Journal
Our 466-page journal offers room for both planning and observing, featuring a shopping list, a planting schedule, a garden map, a maintenance page, a daily journal, and pages for notes on plants, pests, and diseases. Preview sample pages and more information here.


GarganeyThe garganey (Spatula querquedula) isn’t much to look at, but attention to field marks can pay off for birdwatchers hoping to add this uncommon species to their life list.

First off, look at the male’s head. Contrast is a key feature of the breeding male duck. His dark crown is bordered by a white “eyebrow” stripe. Also note his dark bill and the reddish cast of his brown face. His brown breast ends abruptly in a white belly with some barring on the flanks. In flight, note his pale blue-gray shoulder patch and his green speculum bordered prominently with white on both front and back.

The female is something like her mate, but with less contrast. Her face is relatively plain, her eyebrow looking more of a plain brown than white. She lacks the shoulder patch of the male, and her speculum is rather dull in comparison, but she does have two white lines across her wing, as well.

Nonbreeding males look like females with blue shoulder patches.


Best Field Marks

  • Contrast on face, most striking on male.
  • Blue shoulder patch on male, best seen in flight.
  • Green speculum bordered in white on both front and back, best seen in flight.



The male is noted for a rattling geg-geg-geg that is described as having a “wooden” quality. The female quacks rather weakly.


Distribution & Occurrence

The garganey is a Eurasian bird that nevertheless shows up in many different parts of North America on occasion. Scientists originally thought that most garganeys in the United States were ducks that escaped from captivity. In recent years, however, continued sightings have led experts to believe that most of the garganeys seen in America have actually been wild birds that have gone off track.

So far, Kansas can boast of six confirmed garganey sightings in the following places:

  • East Lake, near Newton, Harvey County.
  • Oxford municipal sewage ponds, Sumner County.
  • Miami County.
  • Northeast of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Rice County.
  • Lassiter Marsh, Perry Lake, Jefferson County.
  • Sandsage Bison Range and Wildlife Area, Finney County.

March through May seems to be the typical timeframe for garganey observations, but there have been sightings as early as January and as late as August.



Garganeys in Kansas have sometimes been observed mingling with blue-winged teal, but they have also been found isolated from other ducks on the same body of water.

These ducks seem to have higher protein needs than many American dabbling ducks. They feed by scooping up mollusks and crustaceans from shallow water.



Neither birdwatchers nor hunters are likely to have many opportunities to try attracting garganeys.


Similar Species

Female Teal
Female teal look more or less alike to begin with, and both sexes of garganey resemble all three common teal species, making this a very tough challenge. Your best bet is to get a look at the unfolded wing. If the duck has a blue patch on the shoulder, it could be a female blue-winged teal, a female cinnamon teal, or a male garganey. In this case, the next field mark to check is the speculum. If the speculum has one white border on the front edge, the duck is a teal. If the speculum has two borders, front and back, it is a male garganey.

But what if the duck has a green speculum bordered in white and no shoulder patch? This could be a female green-winged teal or a female garganey. The green-winged teal’s front speculum border is actually buffy to chestnut, instead of pure white like the back border. However, depending on the lighting, this can be a very unreliable clue. In this case, positive identification can be almost impossible.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Pros and Cons of Slow Cookers

Pros and Cons of Slow CookersPick up any slow cooker cookbook, and you’ll be amazed at the versatility of this simple appliance. With a slow cooker, you can combine the ingredients for anything from stew to oatmeal to cobbler within minutes, then just walk away until it’s time to serve and eat.

Are there other advantages to slow cooking? Are there any hidden disadvantages? And is slow cooking safe? Let’s find out.


  • Energy efficiency. Running the oven for extended periods of time can be expensive, and much of the electricity is wasted heating up the kitchen (not desirable on a summer day). The slow cooker pulls comparatively little power and wastes none of it.
  • Convenience. How much easier does it get than a slow cooker? Pile in ingredients and wait for dinner!
  • Lack of odor. No smoke, no smells of burnt food. Just a warm, savory smell when someone opens the lid. (But please resist the urge—opening the slow cooker increases the time the food takes to cook.)
  • Food safety. Don’t worry about the long cooking process when it comes to meat. The FDA recommends cooking food at temperatures above 140°F, while most slow cookers fall within a range of 170°F to 300°F. If the meat is done, the pathogens have been killed, even if the slow cooker was set on low heat most of the time. If the food is cooked, but you are not ready to eat it yet, leave the slow cooker on low to prevent the temperature from falling into a range more suitable for bacteria. As a final precaution, thaw meat thoroughly before cooking.
  • Impossibility of burning food. Okay, you can overcook food in a slow cooker; some meats, particularly chicken, may get too dry if they go too long without enough broth or other liquid. But actually burning the food is virtually impossible.
  • Tenderness. Even low-quality cuts thrive on slow cooking. This is because the collagen in connective tissue is part of what makes meat tough. Slow cooking melts the collagen away, leaving a tender piece of meat.
  • Flavor. The longer food simmers, the better the flavor gets. Therefore, food from a slow cooker always has a delightful, savory flavor.


  • Need for planning and preparation. Changing your plans at the last minute just doesn’t work with a slow cooker. You will need to know what you are making well in advance of dinner, perhaps even early in the morning. Then you will have to prepare your ingredients and thaw your meat.
  • Slow pace. Need dinner in a hurry? Obviously, a slow cooker will not help you here.
  • Incompatibility with cans. Many home cooks complain about the texture of canned food, particularly vegetables, cooked in a slow cooker. Fresh produce has the structural integrity to be tenderized while slow cooking versus turning into mush. Frozen produce works, too, but note that as it thaws it can make the meal somewhat watery.
  • Uneven results. If you combine vegetables and meats in the slow cooker, you may notice that the vegetables (especially potatoes) take longer to cook than the meat. Often a little extra cooking won’t hurt the meat a bit. If you are concerned, however, either precook the vegetables slightly, or put them into the slow cooker well before adding the meat. Chopping them finer helps, as well.
  • Nutrient loss. As vegetables sit in the slow cooker for extended periods of time, they slowly lose nutritional value. Don’t worry—the vitamins and minerals are still present in the broth. But if maximizing nutrient intake is a priority, eat your vegetables raw.
  • Bean toxins. Raw beans, particularly kidney beans, contain the toxin phytohaemagglutinin, which is why they must be cooked thoroughly at very high temperatures before being eaten. A slow cooker does not get hot enough to destroy phytohaemagglutinin, so all beans must be boiled before going into the mix.


The slow cooker has so much going for it that it is considered indispensable by many home chefs! The biggest drawback is exactly what makes the finished product taste so good—a slow pace. As long as you can plan and prepare well before it’s time to eat, you may find that the slow cooker becomes your best kitchen assistant.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

The northern pintail (Anas acuta) is both unique and graceful. The male’s head is chocolate-colored, contrasting with his white neck and the white finger that outlines the backside of the face. Most of his body is grayish, with a brown tint on the back. A band of yellowish white separates the gray flanks from the black tail.

The female is primarily a pale, streaky brown all over. If you are able to get a closer look, note the V-shaped pattern on most of her feathers.

Male and female pintails share some similar characteristics. Their bills, legs, and feet are gray. Overall, their shape is long and slim. They are noted for their long, pointed tails, most dramatic in the male. They have green speculums, but more conspicuous is the white line on the trailing edge of the wing.


Best Field Marks

  • Gray bill, legs, and feet.
  • White “finger” marking on face of male.
  • White line on the trailing edge of wing.
  • Long, pointed tail.


Northern PintailVoice

Pintails are quiet ducks. The males rarely make any noise, but they do become more vocal during the spring. Their basic call is a whistle with either one or two notes, sometimes compared to a train whistle on a very small scale.

The female is slightly noisier. Her call is a low quack, more guttural than the sound of a mallard.


Distribution & Occurrence

The northern pintail is among the most common ducks of Kansas, congregating in tremendous flocks during migrational season. It is considered a sign of spring by some, usually making its first appearance toward the end of February. Spring migration continues through May. During this time, pintails tend to collect in nearly any shallow body of water ranging from lakes to flooded fields.

While pintails do not breed annually in Kansas, a nest may show up from time to time in the western parts of the state, particularly at Cheyenne Bottoms. The next major influx of pintails occurs during fall migration, particularly near the end of October. Small flocks will ride out the winter in Kansas wherever they can find open water.


Northern PintailBehavior

This is a somewhat timid duck that is most active in the evening. It must feel that there is safety in numbers, since it seems to like mixing with large flocks of other species of ducks, particularly in fall and winter. Watching an unmixed flock of pintails can be interesting, however, as they are known for dropping from the sky at a startling speed.

The northern pintail is a dabbling duck that prefers to feed in shallow water. Most of its diet consists of plant matter ranging from pond weeds to waste grain, but it will consume a fair proportion of insects, snails, and crustaceans.

Unlike most dabbling ducks, pintails court in the air, the male attracting attention by falling from the sky with a loud swoosh. While these ducks only form one pair per year, the male will actively hybridize with females of many other species, including mallards, gadwalls, American wigeons, northern shovelers, and redhead ducks.

The female pintail builds a nest in short grass near the water. She lines it with down and a variety of plant matter, such as grass, leaves, moss, and twigs. She may lay as few as three or as many as 12 eggs, usually some shade of an olive color but sometimes cream-colored. The egg-laying process may occur anywhere from mid-April to early July in Kansas. The female sits on the eggs for 22 to 25 days, using a broken-wing act to lure predators away from the nest if necessary.

The young ducklings can leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. While they are zealously protected by the female, they are responsible for finding their own food. They may be able to fly at anywhere from one to two months of age. At this time, the female goes into hiding to molt.


Northern PintailAttracting

Providing a body of open water is all that is necessary to attract pintails.

Hunters rely on distinctive pintail decoys.


Similar Species

Female Dabbling Ducks
At first glance, the female pintail may be dismissed as just another female dabbling duck. This is a mistake, since she can actually be distinguished from other species quite easily. The first clue is the long tail. If you are still not sure, check for the gray bill. While this field mark is shared by a few other species, it does whittle down the possibilities. Finally, note the overall build of the duck. The pintail is slender and long-necked, not diminutive like a teal or front-heavy like a shoveler.

Long-Tailed Duck
The long tail gives these two species a superficially similar appearance, but even a quick glance at other field marks can dispel any confusion. Note that both male and female long-tailed ducks have faces that are primarily white. Also, they have a small, chunky build quite unlike that of the pintail.


Helpful Resource

Northern Pintail
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Milk Production in Beef Cattle

Milk Production in Beef CattleIf you have been searching for the right beef cattle breed for your new farm, you undoubtedly have come across plenty of promotional literature published by breed organizations. This material usually includes long lists of the benefits of the breed in question, such as calving ease, rapid weight gain, or meat tenderness.

One characteristic commonly touted is a cow’s milk production. This may give you pause if you are not looking for dual-purpose cattle. After all, what difference does it make if a beef breed is noted for milk production?


Benefits of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

By producing plenty of milk, a beef cow is producing plenty of food for her calf. The more food the calf has access to at an early age, the heavier the calf will be by weaning time. A study conducted by Oklahoma State shows that the extra milk can translate into as much as 30 extra pounds of calf weaning weight. All other factors being equal, heavier calves tend to bring better prices at sale time.


Drawbacks of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

All this said, there are reasons why some beef producers still look for more moderate levels of milk production in their cows. When nutrient inputs are limited, cows will channel their energy into three basic directions:

  1. Body maintenance.
  2. Lactation.
  3. Reproduction.

Each of these functions represents a separate “level.” Only if the demands of one “level” are met will surplus energy be channeled into the next level. So lactation will only occur after the body’s basic maintenance needs are met, and the cow will only breed again after she has met her energy requirements for lactation.

Not surprisingly, cows that are heavy milkers need plenty of energy. They require large feed inputs to output all the milk they are capable of producing, and only once their nutrient needs for lactation are met will they be ready to breed again. Heavy-milking cows rarely thrive in a low-input, grass-based system. They tend to form the lowest tier of the herd, the ones that always breed back late. Oklahoma State research shows that heavy-milking cows also tend to have poorer body condition than their lower-milking counterparts.


Choosing the Right Cows For You

As you can see, when considering beef cows based on their milk production, you have to strike a delicate balance. Higher milk production means a heavier, more valuable calf, but it also means a less reliable, more expensive cow.

If you are looking at a grass-based system, you may simply not have the option of using heavy-milking beef cows. If you are planning on providing some supplemental feed, then you will have to count the cost.

Estimates of the dry matter intake of different cows in early lactation are as follows:

  • Cows that produce 10 pounds of milk per day: 26.5 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 20 pounds of milk per day: 29.0 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 30 pounds of milk per day: 31.5 pounds of dry matter per day.

Do you have access to an abundant supply of cheap feed? That may decide whether a heavy-milking cow will be an asset or an expense in your system. Keep in mind, however, that you can maintain more low-milk-production cows than heavy-milking cows on the same amount of feed.

Do the math!

Northern Shoveler

Northern ShovelerThe northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata) is named for its odd-looking bill, accentuated by a sloping forehead. Although this appendage makes the duck look slightly ridiculous, it has its uses. Over 100 bristles line the edges of the bill. The result looks and acts something like a comb that the shoveler can use as a filter when eating.

But keep in mind that the male shoveler has other interesting field marks to note. His eye is yellow, his head is dark with a green gloss, his back is dusky, his sides and belly are reddish brown, and his tail coverts are black. This pattern, however, is broken by white on the breast and flanks. Be aware that most of these features are visible only in good lighting; on a cloudy day or when seen from a distance, the northern shoveler may simply look black and white.

The female, as would be expected, is more subtle in appearance. Field marks to note include a mottled orange bill and a white belly.

Young males can look confusing while they are transitioning to adult plumage. At first, they look more or less like the female. With time, however, dark feathers start to show up on their heads and necks, giving them a strange mottled look. They will often (but not always) display reddish brown on the belly.

All northern shovelers share some characteristics that can be seen in flight. They have blue shoulder patches, sometimes with a gray cast in females, and they have green speculums bordered with a thin stripe of white. Their bulky bills create the impression that they are either front-heavy or built with their wings set far back on the body. But don’t let this strange appearance fool you—shovelers can fly with all the speed and precision of smaller teal.


Best Field Marks

  • Shovel bill.
  • Sloping forehead.
  • Greenish head of male.
  • Reddish-brown sides and belly of male.
  • Blue shoulder patches, best seen in flight.


Northern ShovelerVoice

Northern shovelers are unusually quiet ducks. The male gives a low took note in social settings, which becomes a braying paaay-took-took during courtship. The female quacks, particularly during courtship season, when being pursued by a male other than her mate, and just before laying an egg.

You may notice a rattling sound when a group of shovelers takes flight. This is not a vocalization, but a noise made by their wings.


Distribution & Occurrence

Northern shovelers can be found abundantly throughout much of the year in parts of Kansas, but particularly the western two thirds of the state. They migrate from March until May. At this time, they congregate around just about any shallow body of water they find, from ponds to wetlands. Some occasionally stay to nest, particularly in the Arkansas River Lowlands and High Plains regions. Fall migration may begin as early as July, but does not reach its peak until early November. However, some of these ducks will winter in Kansas, particularly on the southern border, as long as they can find open water.


Northenr ShovelerBehavior

The northern shoveler prefers small flocks in the spring and large groups in the fall, when it is likely to be found with blue-winged teal. These flocks can coordinate their movements extremely well, leaping into the air in unison and feeding together in a pinwheel pattern.

The unique bills of these ducks let them feed in unique ways. Unlike some of the other dabbling duck species, shovelers rarely tip over to eat. As they swim, they skim the water for seeds and small invertebrates, particularly crustaceans. The northern shoveler’s diet may consist of as much as 30% animal food, which is unusually high for a dabbling duck.

The courtship displays of the northern shoveler include braying calls, wing flapping, and exaggerated head dipping. Most shovelers have one mate per breeding season, but occasionally one female will bond with two males.

The female shoveler scrapes a nest in the ground wherever she can find sufficient shelter, whatever distance that might be from the water. She then lines it with grasses, dried weeds, and down. She may lay as many as 19 eggs, but 8 to 12 is more common. The eggs are some shade of green, ranging from buffy to grayish. The female incubates the eggs for three to four weeks.

When the ducklings hatch, observers might not be able to recognize them as shovelers because they lack the distinctive bills of the parents. Their tiny bills look just like those of other ducklings, but are unusually pliable—if you held one in your hand, you could bend its bill in any direction. These young ducks can leave the nest in just a few hours after hatching, usually making their appearance in mid-July in Kansas. The female cares for them until they are able to fly at up to two months of age.

Northern Shoveler
Northern shovelers with green-winged teal and shorebirds


Birdwatchers may be able to attract northern shovelers by building ponds.

Hunters attract shovelers with special decoys.


Similar Species

Both male and female mallards bear a superficial resemblance to their shoveler counterparts. The bill is a giveaway, however. Also, no mallard displays a blue shoulder patch. For extra confirmation, look at the male duck’s sides. Mallards have light sides and a reddish breast—the reverse of the shoveler’s pattern.

Blue-Winged Teal
The blue wing patch can cause confusion in this case, but again the bill shape is diagnostic. Also note the male teal’s leopard-spotted body and crescent-marked face. The female teal’s bill is dark, unlike the mottled orange bill of the shoveler.


Helpful Resource

Northern Shoveler
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon TealThe male cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera) is an unusual bird, unlikely to be confused with any other duck. He is mostly deep red from his eyes to his body. This red color is neatly trimmed at both ends with black, the oversized bill being blue-black and the tail being pure black. In the early fall, while molting, this teal fades to a warm brown that resembles the color of his mate. He can always be distinguished, however, by his red eyes.

Female cinnamon teal look more or less like your average brown female ducks. However, their color does tend to be somewhat warmer than usual. They have a suggestion of a line through the eye, but it can be rather indistinct.

Juvenile teal resemble the females, but are paler at first. Young males gradually grow redder with age.

In flight, notice the characteristics that all cinnamon teal share—a blue shoulder patch and a greenish speculum bordered in white on the leading edge. These ducks fly swiftly and directly.


Best Field Marks

  • Unusually long, wide bill.
  • Red eye of male.
  • Red body of male.


Cinnamon TealVoice

The male cinnamon teal’s call is a series of chuk-chuk-chuk sounds. The female quacks.


Distribution & Occurrence

The cinnamon teal is a bird of the western United States. It visits Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge every year, but is rare elsewhere in Kansas. It is most commonly seen during spring migration (April and May) and sometimes during the winter. It prefers small, shallow bodies of water with just enough vegetation to feed from.

Although Kansas is east of its typical breeding range, every few years the cinnamon teal stops at Cheyenne Bottoms to nest.


Cinnamon TealBehavior

Cinnamon teal have different social preferences at different times of the year. Most of the time, they spend the day in pairs or small flocks. In fall and winter, however, they become more gregarious, often associating with blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, and northern pintails. In fact, birdwatchers in quest of cinnamon teal will have the best luck scanning larger flocks of blue-winged teal.

These teal are extremely wary and alert, and they have sharp hearing. At the first sound of danger, they will leap directly into the air and take flight.

Although considered a dabbling duck, the cinnamon teal rarely tips up to feed. It prefers to skim the surface of the water for seeds, insects, snails, and crustaceans.

The cinnamon teal forms one pair bond per breeding season, but it will hybridize with many different species of ducks, including mallards, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and northern shovelers. The female builds the nest in a slight depression on the ground, well hidden in vegetation some distance from the water. She may even access the nest through tunnels in the marsh grass for extra safety. She lays 9 to 12 white to buffy eggs and incubates them for 21 to 25 days. Although the young are able to leave the nest soon after hatching, the female cares for them until they are able to fly at about 49 days of age.


Cinnamon TealAttracting

Cinnamon teal are not common enough in Kansas to be attracted reliably. However, migrating birds may choose to rest for a time in a ditch if the grass is left uncut for privacy.

Hunters prize cinnamon teal as trophy ducks. They go to great pains to find elaborate decoys to bring the birds within range, but for added realism they also set out northern shoveler decoys to simulate a mixed flock. Judicious use of a teal call can help, as well.


Similar Species

Female Blue-Winged Teal
This challenge is one that can baffle the most experienced birder. The best field mark to look for is probably the bill. The blue-winged teal’s bill is proportionate to its face, while the cinnamon teal’s bill looks excessively long and broad. Also, if you have an eye for ducks or if you can compare the two species side by side, note the blue-winged teal’s smaller size, duller color, and sharper eye line.


Helpful Resource

Cinnamon Teal
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas