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Blue-winged Teal

Common Name: Blue-winged Teal.

Scientific Name: Spatula Discors.

What to look for?  Look for a much smaller version of a Mallard duck. And look for a distinctive white crescent in front of the eyes that is black-edged. The bill is black. The Blue-winged Teal has a slate gray neck and head with a blackish crown. The body is tan with dark brown speckles. And there is a white spot on the side of the rump. Most of the upper wing coverts (feathers) are blue-gray – hence, “Blue-winged” Teal. The secondary flight feathers form an iridescent green speculum and the underwing is whitish. The legs and feet are yellowish to orange. The female Blue-winged Teal has a coarsely marked brown body with darker cap and eyeline on the head, and black bill.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Blue-winged Teal around here in the spring and in the fall foraging around the water’s edge of our ponds. In the spring, Blue-winged Teals pair up so you may see couples around Carillon Stonegate Pond. Your initial sighting may be “rump-up” as they forage with their heads into the pond. When the Blue-wing Teal arrive, it’s a sure sign that winter is over!

How big are they? The Blue-winged Teal averages around 15 inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately two feet. They weigh in at around 13 pounds. A Blue-winged Teal is dwarfed by a Mallard.

What are their flight patterns? Fast and wary, Blue-winged Teal fly in small groups or flocks, turning in unison and flashing the blue area of the wing. In flight, the large, pale blue patch on the inner part of the leading edge of the wing can be seen. This is usually hidden when at rest.

How else do they behave? Blue-winged Teal are often seen around the edges of ponds, generally in a concealed spot to forage or rest. They are “dabbling ducks” - they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants. They almost never dive. They forage in shallow water by dabbling, reaching underwater to grab aquatic vegetation, seeds, midge larvae, and other food items.

What’s for dinner? Blue-winged Teal dabble to feed on the vegetative parts of aquatic plants (algae, duckweeds, pondweeds, etc.), seeds (sedges, pondweeds, grasses, etc.) and large amounts of aquatic invertebrates found in shallowly flooded wetlands. Hence, they love dropping in at Carillon Stonegate Pond as they migrate.

Where do they take up residence? Blue-winged Teal prefer to nest in wetland areas within grasslands, such as marshes, ponds, and lakes. During winter, their habitats are mostly swamps and other shallow wetlands.

When and where do they breed and nest? Blue-winged teal breed primarily in the northern prairies and parklands of central North America. Their relative abundance generally increases from west to east, and north to south within the Prairie Pothole Region (The Prairie Pothole Region is an area of the northern Great Plains and midgrass and tallgrass prairies that contains thousands of shallow wetlands known as “potholes”. These “potholes” are the result of glacier activity in the Wisconsin glaciation, which ended about 10,000 years ago. The decaying ice sheet left behind depressions formed by the uneven deposition of till in ground moraines. These depressions fill with water in the spring, creating temporary wetlands.). Pair formation begins in early winter and continues during spring migration. Nesting habitat includes wetland areas within grasslands, such as shallow marshes, sloughs, flooded ditches, and temporary ponds.

Where do they migrate? Generally, ducks do not migrate long distances. The Blue-winged Teal is a major exception to this rule. Blue-winged Teal are long distance migrants, with some birds heading all the way to South America for the winter. Therefore, they take off early on spring and fall migration, leaving their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada well before other species in the fall. Like many of us at Carillon at Stonegate, the Blue-winged Teal seems to favor warm-weather; however, unlike some of us, the Blue-winged Teal is largely absent from most of North America in the cold months.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Blue-winged Teal has seen stable populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 8 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Blue-winged Teal are more vocal than most ducks. Their high-pitched peeping and nasal quacking are commonly heard in spring. The male’s call is a loud, high whistle or a nasal bleat. The female gives loud, evenly spaced quacks. Here is a link to the sounds of the Blue-winged Teal.

Interesting Facts About the Blue-winged Teal:

  • The Blue-winged Teal is among the last ducks to migrate northward in spring and one of the first to migrate southward in fall.

  • The Blue-winged Teal migrates over long distances.

  • The oldest recorded Blue-winged Teal was approximately 23 years old.

  • Blue-winged Teals have the highest annual mortality rate (reaching 65%) of all the dabbling ducks; possibly as a result of hunting and long over-ocean migration.

  • A group of teal has many collective nouns, including a "coil", "dopping", "knob", "paddling", and "spring" of teal.

For more information on the Blue-winged Teal and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and BirdWeb.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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