FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

Blue-winged teal are the second smallest duck in North America and are highly distinctive during flight due to their bright blue wing patch. Populations are highly responsive to wetland conditions in their breeding range; those years with many small temporary wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region typically produce large hatches of this species.

Scientific Name

Anas discors
Common Name
Blue-winged Teal
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Genus
Species

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

The blue-winged teal prefers small wetlands and shallow areas with mudflats during fall migration. Blue-winged teal are commonly found in very shallow water sifting for invertebrates. During their fall migration and winter, they can be found on almost any shallow water body, including flooded crop fields and coastal marshes. Management for blue-winged teal is limited on most national wildlife refuges due to their early and late migration dates which fall outside of the optimal flooding and dewatering dates for many managed wetlands in the Southeast. However, impoundments managed for fall-migrating shorebirds also provide perfect habitat conditions for teal and are an excellent example of multi-species management strategies.

Wetland
Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Sound

They are more vocal than most ducks - their high-pitched peeping and nasal quacking is commonly heard in spring and to a lesser extent in fall.

Size & Shape

Blue-winged teal are among the smallest of the dabbling ducks. Their head is round in shape and their bill appears large compared to the head.

MeasurementsLength: 14.2 to 16 in (36 to 41 cm)Wingspan: 22 to 24.4 in (56 to 62 cm)

Color & Pattern

The drake, or male, has a very prominent white facial crest between the bill and eye, a brown spotted breast and flanks, a pale blue shoulder patch and a black rear end. The hen, or female, has a dark eye line, mottled brown body and duller pale blue shoulder patch. Because of the pale blue shoulder patches, blue-winged teal can be confused with the larger northern shoveler in flight.

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Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Females scrape a circular depression and line it with grasses. Then, they add down feathers to the inside. They lay nine to 12 white eggs.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

The blue-winged teal prefers small wetlands and shallow areas with mudflats during fall migration. Blue-winged teal are commonly found in very shallow water, sifting for invertebrates. During their fall migration and winter, they can be found on almost any shallow water body, including flooded crop fields and coastal marshes. Management for blue-winged teal is limited on most national wildlife refuges due to their early and late migration dates which fall outside of the optimal flooding and dewatering dates for many managed wetlands in the southeast. However, impoundments managed for fall-migrating shorebirds also provide perfect habitat conditions for teal and are an excellent example of multi-species management strategies.

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Their food choice includes primarily invertebrates, but they will also eat vegetable matter, seeds, pondweeds and waste grain. In rice-producing regions, blue-winged teal commonly forage in shallow rice fields for waste grain and invertebrates. They primarily eat snails, tadpoles and aquatic insects during breeding season.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

These long-distance migrants breed as far north as Alaska and throughout Canada, primarily nesting in the prairies of the central U.S. and Canada. Blue-winged teal are not able to endure the cold weather and are some of the first to migrate south in the fall and the last to head back north in the spring. Although some spend winter along coastal areas of the southern U.S., most migrate to Mexico or South America. Blue-winged teal are found in all four flyways, but they are most abundant in the Central and Mississippi flyways. An exception is the Southern Atlantic Flyway, where they can be abundant during winter, especially in Florida.

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