Tag: Birdwatching

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds
The Sunflower State

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsAttracting hummingbirds to your backyard doesn’t have to be complicated! If you want to enjoy the beautiful sight of these tiny creatures hovering outside, there are two incredibly simple ways to put out the welcome mat. One requires a little advanced planning, and one can be implemented today.

 

Plant Hummingbird-Friendly Flowers

A diverse display of flowers is a sight few hummingbirds can resist. And if a few blooms feature their favorite color—red—so much the better!

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

Butterflies love bee balm, too!

Red flowers that hummingbirds enjoy include:

  • Begonia.
  • Columbine.
  • Daylily.
  • Gilia.
  • Hibiscus.
  • Lantana.
  • Peony.
  • Zinnia.
  • Bee balm.
  • Scarlet sage.
  • Trumpet honeysuckle.
  • Red cardinal flower.

But just because it isn’t red doesn’t mean that hummingbirds won’t like it! Other proven favorites include:

  • Foxglove.
  • Geranium.
  • Hollyhock.
  • Impatiens.
  • Nasturtium.
  • Petunia.
  • Phlox.
  • Yucca.
  • Blazing star.
  • Butterfly bush.
  • Purple coneflower.

Note that tube-shaped blossoms help the hummingbirds access the nectar.

 

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsFill a Nectar Feeder

Have you ever been tempted to buy a hummingbird nectar mix from your favorite supplier of all things bird-related? Resist the urge! Commercial nectar mixes usually contain artificial colorings and preservatives that are actually harmful to hummingbirds.

Incidentally, the cheapest and easiest solution is actually the best for the birds—just dissolve plain old white cane sugar in clean water in a 1:4 ratio. White sugar is sucrose, which is a major part of the natural diet of a hummingbird. While there are other nutrients hummingbirds need, they will obtain those by sipping out of the flowers you planted for them.

Never feed any of these ingredients to hummingbirds:

  • Honey; it will ferment outdoors and produce deadly bacteria.
  • Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, xylitol, etc.).
  • Minimally processed sugars (sucanat, turbinado, etc.); they contain iron, which is toxic to hummingbirds.

And please do not add red food coloring to your homemade nectar. Red food coloring usually contains red dye #40, which can be toxic to hummingbirds. Instead, alert hummingbirds to the presence of nectar by selecting a feeder that displays red prominently. This one fits the bill, plus does not tend to jettison nectar by blowing around in a strong wind like some models do.

 

Enjoy the Hummingbirds!

Attracting hummingbirds is easy! With these two easy steps, you’ll be sure to enjoy the tiny creatures this summer. Keep your camera handy!

BirdCast
The Sunflower State

BirdCast

BirdCastBirdwatchers have long had a few hints and tricks on the best days to go birding (preferably on a cloudy day with low barometric pressure sometime near the peak of migration season). Now scientists have offered us a new tool.

BirdCast, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, periodically releases migration forecasts to help birdwatchers pick the perfect time to spot that rare bird. Find out what bird is heading where nationally and regionally throughout the spring and fall migration seasons based on current weather patterns. For each species on the move, the forecasts predict:

  • Noticeability.
  • Date of arrival.
  • Date of rapid influx.
  • Peak date.
  • Date of rapid departure.
  • Date of final departure.

The computer models used to create these forecasts are based on three important sources of information:

  • Online records from citizen scientists.
  • Recorded flight calls.
  • Weather surveillance radar.

Of course, the result is a model, not an absolute. But it is fascinating to see the ways birds interact with national weather systems.

All is quiet on the bird migration front at present, but be sure to bookmark this site for later. Fall migration will be upon us again before you know it!

Kansas Bird Checklists
The Sunflower State

Kansas Bird Checklists

Kansas Bird ChecklistsIf you plan on doing any birdwatching in Kansas this Memorial Day weekend, equip yourself with a checklist first.

The Kansas Ornithological Society offers free PDF downloads of the following checklists:

Also, be sure to see the species county dot maps for a visual presentation of where in Kansas a particular bird has been seen.

These maps and checklists are updated as new birds are found in the state and in individual counties. Check back periodically.

Before you hit the road, print out your state checklist. For an extra challenge, start keeping track of your bird sightings by county! Good luck!

My Kansas
The Sunflower State

My Kansas

My KansasBack in 2011, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Travel and Tourism Division, published a spectacular 160-page collection of best-of-Kansas scenes by the best Kansas photographers. This book, My Kansas: A Photographic Journey Across the Sunflower State, may now be easier to borrow than to buy. But if you can find a copy, by all means enjoy it.

This beautiful book includes photos in the following categories:

  • Small-town treasures.
  • Wildlife wonders.
  • Roads to discovery.
  • Classic flavors.
  • Elbow room.
  • Kansas legacies.
  • Cowboy country.

Scenes of architecture, birds, harvests, sunsets, and more are sure to delight and inspire. The photos are well captioned, and some are embellished with fitting quotes.

If you love Kansas scenery, you will love My Kansas. It can make a delightful gift for a fellow Kansan. Or put a copy on your coffee table, conveniently within reach of out-of-state guests.

Green-Winged Teal
The Sunflower State

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.

 

Attracting

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

 

Garganey
The Sunflower State

Garganey

GarganeyThe garganey (Anas 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.

 

Voice

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.

 

Behavior

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.

 

Attracting

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

 

Northern Pintail
The Sunflower State

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

 

Northern Shoveler
The Sunflower State

Northern Shoveler

Northern ShovelerThe northern shoveler (Anas 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

Attracting

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

Hunters attract shovelers with special decoys.

 

Similar Species

Mallard
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
The Sunflower State

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon TealThe male cinnamon teal (Anas 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

 

Blue-Winged Teal
The Sunflower State

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged TealThe blue-winged teal (Anas discors) is one of the smallest dabbling ducks in America. The male’s pattern is unforgettable. His dark head is marked by a striking white crescent at the base of the bill. His body is spotted in an exotic leopard pattern. The spots end in a white patch, then a black undertail. In flight, notice the male’s dark belly.

When molting in late summer, the male blue-winged teal looks almost identical to the female.

The female blue-winged tail looks more or less like any other female duck—brown. Notice, however, at her subtle face pattern. A thin, dark line runs through the eye, standing out in sharper contrast than is seen in many other ducks. Another area of contrast is found where her light-colored face meets up with her dark bill.

The topside of the extended wing of both sexes presents unique field marks. The shoulder is marked by a particularly large patch of light blue, which may appear almost white depending on the lighting. The speculum is a long bar of metallic green, which may look dark in poor lighting. (Note that some females do not show a speculum.) The shoulder patch and the speculum are separated by a thin band of white. These ducks fly swiftly with steady wing beats.

 

Best Field Marks

  • White crescent on face of male.
  • Blue shoulder patch, best seen in flight.

 

Blue-Winged TealVoice

The male blue-winged teal gives a high-pitched peep or whistle, usually in flight. The female quacks monotonously.

 

Distribution & Occurrence

This teal is one of the most abundant ducks in Kansas, found across most of the state. It migrates through in April, heading to its breeding grounds to the north. While traveling, it will occupy nearly any body of water, no matter how small or stagnant—in fact, shallow, muddy ponds are its favorite habitats.

In favorably wet years, blue-winged teal stay to breed and nest in the state, particularly the Smoky Hills, the Arkansas Lowlands, and the southern High Plains. While they frequently nest at large wetlands such as Cheyenne Bottoms, they will also use anything from irrigation ponds to flooded depressions in the ground.

The summer population of blue-winged teal typically leaves Kansas in two waves in October. They often spend the winter in northern South America, but the occasional duck will stay in eastern Kansas every few years.

 

Blue-Winged TealBehavior

The blue-winged teal is a tame and sociable duck. When not breeding, it congregates in large flocks, tending to keep toward the shoreline. These flocks are noted for their ability to take to the air rapidly and perform complex maneuvers in tight formation.

In keeping with its fondness for shorelines and muddy waters, the blue-winged teal prefers to forage in shallow waters or on mud flats. While it may tip up to eat, it generally pulls its food directly from the surface of the water or ground. A small portion of its diet is made up of insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, particularly snails. The rest is plant matter, including grain foraged from fields.

Blue-winged teal can be very feisty during the breeding season, many males aggressively courting the same female until she selects one as her mate. Courting activities include repeated head pumping and exaggerated feeding displays. These ducks form one pair per season, but the pair only remains together until incubation begins. The ducks will find new mates the following year.

The female builds the nest, just a shallow depression lined with plants and down. She may lay anywhere from six to 15 eggs. The eggs range from white to pale olive in color. In Kansas, laying takes place between mid-May and mid-July. Incubation lasts about three to four weeks. Once the ducklings hatch, they are able to follow the female around almost immediately. They are old enough to fly at 35 to 49 days.

 

Blue-Winged TealAttracting

If you have a small, shallow, somewhat murky body of water on your property, you may be fortunate enough to see blue-winged teal on occasion. Building a duck pond is sufficient to attract any that are passing through during the migration season.

Hunters find that these ducks decoy very readily. Small teal decoys are typically used, but decoys resembling female mallards work, as well. While calling is frequently unnecessary, an airborne flock of teal will respond to a quiet, lisping call.

 

Similar Species

Female Green-Winged Teal
Female teal can be extremely difficult to tell apart. The most reliable field mark to look for is the shoulder patch, visible in flight. The green-winged teal’s shoulder patch is green, just as its name suggests. Other helpful clues are the green-winged teal’s bulkier build and slower, more deliberate flight.

Female Cinnamon Teal
Up for another teal challenge? This one is trickier, because both teal have blue shoulder patches. Pay attention to the duck’s face. The female cinnamon teal’s bill looks almost absurdly long for her face, while her pattern is much less distinct than that of the blue-winged teal. The eye line is much less visible in the cinnamon teal. Also, her body has a reddish (cinnamon) cast.

Female Northern Shoveler
Some birdwatchers confuse female teal with female shovelers. One look at the bill will settle the matter. The teal’s bill is dark, while the shoveler’s bill is mottled orange. The giveaway, however, is the distinctive shovel shape of the shoveler’s bill.

 

Helpful Resource

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

 

Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas