The 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.
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.