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